15 October 2014
To Kill or Not to Kill
The death penalty, a capital crime decided by a jury to be given to individuals that have committed gruesome murders, but what happens when the defendant is mentally retarded? States vary on the requirements they have for a defendant to be considered mentally retarded. In California and other parts of the United States a person must meet three requirements to be considered mentally retarded "I.Q of 70or below… Difficulty coping in the everyday world… The disability must manifest itself prior to adulthood." (Mental Retardation and the Death Penalty, 6-8). In the book, Of Mice and Men, Lennie Small murders an innocent woman, however he meets some of the requirements of being mentally retarded. If Lennie Small had committed his murder in California in 2014, he would face the death penalty due to his verbal skills, understanding of right and wrong, and many other details.
In California, courts place a heavy weight on the verbal skills section of an IQ test; a part that Lennie could be considered average. As of now, the California Supreme Court does not base a person's mental state solely on one section of an IQ test; as seen in Vidal's case who had a IQ of 77, but he was deemed mentally retarded because a judge concluded that "his verbal IQ showed "subaverage general intellectual functioning" (Justices rule on death penalty and retardation, 10) . Reversely this means that a person's overall IQ could be lower than 70, but their verbal skills could disqualify them from being considered mentally retarded. Even though Lennie's IQ is not given his verbal skills can be considered in the normal range based on his actions. An example of Lennie's verbal skills ability is seen when he plays a joke on George in the movie Of Mice and Men. Playing jokes is an abstract thinking technique, an ability the mentally retarded do not posses. A judge or jury would not see Lennie as mentally retarded because his understanding is higher than people who are mentally handicapped. Certainly, Lennie has shown that he possess an average thinking ability, but the ability judges and juries mainly look at is the defendant's ability to differentiate right from wrong.
In fact, Lennie posses the ability to tell the difference between right and wrong, something the mentally disabled do not have, but the area jurors base their final decision on. Indeed, Lennie knew that killing a dog was wrong because he whispers, "I done a bad thing" (Steinbeck, 100). Lennie proves that he can tell the difference between right and wrong actions since he understands that killing is bad. Many jurors are concerned that the defendant knew that their actions were wrong and would execute him solely based on this piece of evidence. Moreover, evidence supports that Lennie does understands consequences because after he kills a pup he says, "Now George ain't goanna let me tend no rabbits" (Steinbeck, 93). Lennie knew that the result of his action was the loss of a privilege, in this case tending rabbits. Since Lennie's mental capacity is high enough to understand how he is affected by his actions; jurors would focus on this piece of evidence and others like it to form their opinion on his mental state. Certainly, in the eyes of a jury, Lennie would not qualify for mental retardation because in the words of Bill Sinclair "jurors misunderstood abilities of mentally retarded… jurors are concerned only with the 'right from wrong' standard" (Death Penalty Juries do not Understand Mental Retardation, 4-5). Even if jurors fully understood the abilities of the mentally disabled they would still give Lennie the death penalty because of his understanding. Multiple examples can be found in the book and movie where Lennie shows his ability to understand right from wrong. Evidently, Lennie has both areas of thinking that would disqualify him from being considered mentally handicapped in the minds of the