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Natalie Pifer is a third-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Criminology, Law & Society. She holds a law degree from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles and a B.A. in Journalism and Politics from New York University. Natalie's current research interests include legal translation, punishment, and law's construction of and relationship to vulnerable groups.
Though Atkins v. Virginia (2002) categorically exempts the intellectually disabled from execution, repeated accounts of constitutionally questionable executions suggest that the decision's implementation has been uneven. This project explores the gap between Atkins' promise and its implementation by examining the unique legal category created by the decision—the intellectually disabled capital defendant. A product of competing cultural categories, this offender exists in the intersection of rhetoric surrounding intellectual disability—an eternal childhood—and contemporary penal and executable subject constructions—rational and othered. These constructions represent three disparate categories, yet confronting the intellectually disabled capital defendant requires their integration. Subjecting capital cases involving an Atkins claim to latent content analysis, I plan to explore this delicate balance as a complicating mechanism of the decision's implementation. Focusing on how law understands Atkins claimants and their crimes will contribute to better understanding the implementation of Atkins and the cultural meaning of modern punishment.