executions intellectual disabilities

“The Failure of Mitigation” Studies the Last 100 Executed

A new study of 100 people executed in 2012 and 2013 shows that the death penalty system has failed to identify and execute “the worst of the worst.” According to researchers, the overwhelming majority of those executed had deficits of at least one kind, such as intellectual disability, severe mental illness, or severe childhood trauma.

In early June, Robert Smith, Sophie Cull, and Zoe Robinson published the results of their study, “The Failure of Mitigation,” in The Hastings Law Journal.  The study takes an in-depth look at the last 100 executions in America and focuses on evidence of the following mitigating factors: mental illness, youth, childhood trauma, and intellectual impairment.

The study found that eighty-seven percent of the executed offenders possessed some combination of these mitigating factors: “nearly nine of every ten executed offenders possessed an intellectual impairment, had not yet reached their twenty-first birthday, suffered from a severe mental illness, or endured marked childhood trauma.”

More specifically, “fifty percent of the last hundred executed defendants around the country suffered from complex trauma … severe physical abuse, sexual molestations, domestic violence, the violent loss of immediate family and chronic homelessness.”

When considering the age of the offender, the study provides this bleak fact: “more than one-third of executed offenders committed a capital crime before turning twenty-five—the age at which the brain fully matures.”

These mitigating factors create diminished culpability and should remove other individuals, beyond juveniles and the intellectually disabled, from the death penalty spectrum.

For more information, please refer to the following sites:

Infographic and information regarding the study from the Death Penalty Information Center:

Op-ed by Professor Charles J. Ogletree Jr. in The Washington Post

Download the complete study from the Social Science Research Network: