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How does Tennessee define intellectual disability?

Not guilty be reason of insanity may seem to be such an overused defense to murder charges that most in Memphis may simply dismiss it the moment it is cited. Yet what if it truly exists in your case? Some might think that determining whether or not you have the intellectual capacity to comprehend the seriousness of any allegedly murderous actions comes down to the subjective opinions of those hearing your case. Yet the state has set guidelines for identifying whether an intellectual disability should be viewed as a mitigating factor to the murder charges that you may be facing.

In the context of the state law addressing the issue of culpability for murder due to mental impairment (as found in Section 39-13-203 of Tennessee’s Criminal Offenses Code), the state defines an intellectual disability as: 

  • Significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning (with the baseline for average functioning being set at an IQ score of 70)
  • Demonstrative deficits in adaptive behavior
  • Your intellectual disability having manifested during your developmental years (prior to you turning 18)

You are required to meet all three of these criteria in order to meet the state’s definition. Proof of your disability must not be made beyond a reasonable doubt, but rather by a preponderance of evidence. 

You should know that proof of an intellectual disability may not necessarily be viewed as an acceptable defense to murder. Rather, if it is determined that you are intellectually disabled, prosecutors who try you for first degree murder cannot seek the death penalty. Even in cases where they seek life in prison without the possibility of parole, the jury charged with your sentencing can consider offering you parole. 

If you do not meet the state’s standard, you may still argue that diminished capacity was a mitigating factor in the crime you are accused of. 

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