Interpretation of intelligence test scores in Atkins cases: conceptual and psychometric issues

Document Type


Publication Date



So-called Atkins cases refer to individuals who have been sentenced to death for capital crimes who claim that the death penalty constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Eighth Amendment. Psychological testimony is influential because this testimony strikes at the very core issue in these cases; namely, whether or not the individual is mentally retarded. Despite the importance of psychological testimony, courts have not been made to understand the subtleties and complexities of the issues in diagnosing mental retardation. Five such issues are discussed in this article: (a) the nature of intellectual functioning, (b) the Flynn Effect, (c) measurement error, (d) practice effects, and (e) the nature of school "diagnoses." Examples of each of these issues are illustrated with an actual Atkins case (Walker v. True, 2006).

Publication Source (Journal or Book title)

Applied neuropsychology

First Page


Last Page


This document is currently not available here.