TITLE: Atkins v. Virginia: Challenges and Pitfalls in Diagnosing ID in a Forensic Context.
Moderator: Marc J. Tassé, PhD
This panel presentation consisted of 5 papers and a thought provoking closing commentary. The panel was composed of an attorney, IQ researcher, adaptive behavior expert, forensic psychologists, and disability researchers who presented an overview of the recent court decisions in ID determination death penalty cases and discussed the key issues facing ID experts and fact finders. This Panel Presentation focused on the critical issues related to making or ruling-out a diagnosis of intellectual disability in a forensic context. Since the 2002 Atkins v. Virginia Supreme court decision, individuals with a diagnosed intellectual disability are exempt from the death penalty. Making a diagnosis of intellectual disability is always a high stakes decision. Making or rejecting a diagnosis of ID can result in obtaining or losing special education services, federally and state-funded waiver services for independent living, employment supports, social security payments, and relief from a death sentence. Undeniably, determining whether or not an individual has an intellectual disability in a death penalty case if the highest of "high stakes". And as such, diagnosing an ID in a forensic context poses many particular challenges to the professionals and the fact finders. This panel also presented the professional challenges that face the experts when assessing intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior of individuals who are currently incarcerated and in many cases have been incarcerated for several years. Panel members presented the key challenges and provided recommendations regarding the steps needed to address these issues.
Paper 1: Atkins: A Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis of Post-Atkins Decisions by Juries and Judges - John H. Blume, JD
John Blume is a nationally respected law scholar and death penalty attorney. Mr. Blume presented a succinct analysis of the most recent Atkins decisions. He summarized the important factors related to jurors and judges as they relate to the understanding and determination of intellectual disability in the context of a court room.
Paper 2: Assessing Intellectual Functioning - Kevin S. McGrew, PhD
For better or worse, IQ scores typically are at the center of Atkins arguments. Court decisions have reflected a wide range of knowledge about intelligence and IQ testing from both experts and the courts. IQ test scores, and associated measurement issues (SEM, Flynn Effect, practice effects, full scale v part scores, norms for non-English speaking defendants, reasons for different IQ scores, etc.) have been used and abused in Atkins decisions. Dr. McGrew presented a summary the key intelligence testing issues and controversies in Atkins cases and provided research-based guidelines and recommendations for the use of intelligence testing in Atkins cases.
Paper 3: Assessing Adaptive Behavior in a Forensic Context - James R. Patton, EdD
This presentation focused on the essential practice information regarding the procedures to assess adaptive behavior for the purpose of diagnosing ID. Dr. Patton reviewed the challenges with administering standardized assessment AB instruments, the issues related to retrospective assessment, and use of multiple information and sources of information. Dr Patton’s presentation also discussed the problematic issues related to using prison guards as respondents, self-report, typical performance issues, and the need to assess the reliability of the respondents.
Paper 4: Intellectual Disability Assessment - Malingering in Death Penalty Cases – Denis W. Keyes, PhD.
Dr. Keyes presented an overview of the literature on the measures of malingering and reviewed their applicability to persons with an intellectual disability. He also presented an overview of the properties and utility of the current standardized measures of malingering. Dr. Keyes presented important recommendations when assessing malingering in individuals with low IQ.
Paper 5: Intellectual Disability Assessment in Death Penalty Cases and Retrospective Assessment – Sal M. Blandino, PhD.
Dr. Blandino presented the issues related to establishing/ruling-out a diagnosis of intellectual disability in persons over the age of 18 years. Dr. Blandino reviewed the issues related to conducting a retrospective assessment in a forensic context, including reviewing of important records, prior assessments and conducting a retrospective adaptive behavior evaluation.
Closing Remarks/Comments by an “eminence grise” - Stephen Greenspan, PhD
Dr. Greenspan provided an exciting commentary of the field of intellectual disability, focusing on issues with the current AAIDD definition and assessment issues in a forensic context. Greenspan highlighted the salient pitfalls and challenges in Atkins Claims as they relate to the assessment and diagnosis of ID in a forensic context.
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