The Influence of Crime and Evaluation Context on Adaptive Behavior of Defendants with Intellectual Disability

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University of Alabama Libraries

In Atkins v. Virginia (2002), the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled it unconstitutional to sentence an individual with intellectual disability (ID) to death. More recently, the SCOTUS emphasized the need to utilize standards of practice when assessing for adaptive functioning in Atkins claims and in Moore v. Texas (2017) made this a requirement. Existing literature has demonstrated the lack of unanimity over what constitutes best practice regarding the use of correctional staff as informants of an individual's adaptive behavior and the use of this information to inform the Court. The debate is one about bias and error in the application of this information. One side is of the opinion that officers do not have the breadth of information necessary to provide valid information and the other the opposite. The current study evaluated the impact of type of crime (i.e., capital murder or theft), context of the evaluation (i.e., ID or evaluation), and attitudes toward ID on perceptions of adaptive functioning. Undergraduate students were randomly assigned to one of four conditions and completed measures assessing adaptive functioning and attitudes. Results revealed that the type of crime can influence perceptions of adaptive functioning. Specifically, participants perceived the individual charged with capital murder to be lower functioning than the individual charged with theft. In addition, findings suggested that participants believed individuals are higher functioning in the domain of daily living skills as compared to communication and socialization. Contrary to expectations, evaluation context and attitudes toward ID were not related to or predictive of adaptive functioning.

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