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Sentence for the Damned: Using Atkins to Understand the “Irreparable Corruption” Standard for Juvenile Life Without Parole


Zachary Crawford-Pechukas


March 17, 2019

This Note suggests that guidance should be drawn from the Supreme Court’s death penalty jurisprudence regarding the execution of intellectually disabled offenders. Atkins v. Virginia paved the way for the juvenile sentencing cases as the Supreme Court for the first time found that, under the Eighth Amendment, a selected class of offenders—the intellectually disabled — were not eligible for the state’s harshest penalty—the death penalty— because of their diminished culpability. Atkins similarly left the state courts to figure out how to decide whether an individual offender met this amorphous standard, “intellectually disabled.” As state courts grappled with this standard and failed to adequately define “intellectually disabled,” the Supreme Court was forced to provide guidance. That guidance, in essence, was to follow the science to determine who was intellectually disabled. State courts should do the same in developing procedures for determining who is irreparably corrupt, even if the result is a de facto prohibition on sentencing any juvenile offenders to life without parole.