Penry v. Lynaugh

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Penry v. Lynaugh
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued January 11, 1989
Decided June 26, 1989
Full case name Johnny Paul Penry v. Lynaugh, Director of the Texas Department of Corrections
Citations 492 U.S. 302 (more)
Prior history Writ of habeas corpus challenging death sentence denied by United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas; affirmed by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, 832 F.2d 915 (5th Cir. 1987); cert. granted, 487 U.S. 1233 (1988)
Subsequent history Subsequent death sentence affirmed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and then the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas; affirmed by the Fifth Circuit, 215 F.3d 504 (5th Cir. 2000); sentence vacated, 532 U.S. 782 (2001)
The Eighth Amendment does not forbid executing the mentally retarded; however, the three "special issues" a Texas jury is required to consider before imposing the death penalty did not adequately allow the jury in Penry's sentencing hearing to consider his alleged mental retardation as a mitigating factor.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William Rehnquist
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan, Jr. · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
Case opinions
Majority O'Connor, joined by unanimous court (Parts I, IV-A); Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, Stevens (Parts II-B, III); Rehnquist, White, Scalia, Kennedy (Parts II-A, IV-B)
Concur/dissent Brennan, joined by Marshall
Concur/dissent Stevens, joined by Blackmun
Concur/dissent Scalia, joined by Rehnquist, White, Kennedy
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. VIII
Overruled by
Atkins v. Virginia (2002)

Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302 (1989), sanctioned the death penalty for mentally retarded offenders because the Court determined executing the mentally retarded was not "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Eighth Amendment. However, because Texas law did not allow the jury to give adequate consideration as a mitigating factor to Johnny Paul Penry's intellectual disability at the sentencing phase of his murder trial, the Court remanded the case for further proceedings. Eventually, Penry was retried for capital murder, again sentenced to death, and again the Supreme Court ruled, in Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782 (2001), that the jury was not able to adequately consider Penry's intellectual disability as a mitigating factor at the sentencing phase of the trial. Ultimately, Penry was spared the death penalty because of the Supreme Court's ruling in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), which, while not directly overruling the holding in "Penry I", did give considerable negative treatment to Penry on the basis that the Eighth Amendment allowed execution of the mentally retarded.


Johnny Paul Penry was convicted of the October 1979 rape and stabbing of 22-year-old Pamela Moseley Carpenter (sister of Washington Redskins kicker Mark Moseley). Penry, who had been released from prison three months earlier after serving two years of a five-year sentence for rape, forced his way into Carpenter's home and held a pocket knife to her throat. While struggling, Carpenter managed to grab a pair of scissors and stab Penry, but he was able to disarm her. He then dragged her to the bedroom where he proceeded to rape and stab her in the chest with the scissors, fatally injuring her.

Opinion of the Court[edit]

The Court ruled that the execution of the mentally retarded does not violate the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishments.

Concurring and dissenting opinions[edit]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Bing, Jonathan L. (1996). "Protecting the Mentally Retarded from Capital Punishment: State Efforts Since Penry and Recommendations for the Future". N.Y.U. Review of Law & Social Change. 22 (1): 59–151. 
  • Hagenah, Patricia (1990). "Imposing the Death Sentence on Mentally Retarded Defendants: The Case of Penry v. Lynaugh". UMKC Law Review. 59 (1): 135–153. 

External links[edit]