Today's Los Angeles Times publishes the editorial, "Should a death row inmate's life hinge on an IQ test?"
Florida, along with several other states, sets its threshold at an IQ test score of 70, though the professional consensus suggests a range of 70 to 75. Hall's score? He was measured at 71 in one test, 72 in another. Yet those tests also have a "standard error of measurement," which means Hall could actually be below Florida's threshold of 70.
Florida says it's satisfied with its "bright line" threshold and wants to put Hall to death despite assertions that he was incapable of cooperating in his own defense, and despite the fact that the professional determination of intellectual disability is based only in part on IQ. According to the American Assn. on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities — and cited by Hall's lawyers — it is "characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior." An IQ test can measure intellectual functioning, but it takes trained professionals to determine the extent of a person's adaptive behavior. In other words, a test score alone doesn't define mental capacity.
Yet Florida says it does. The legal argument before the court is whether Florida can use its rigid statistical cutoff to determine who is ineligible for the death penalty. So it will be a court of the absurd as the justices hear arguments over whether a single IQ test point and a statistical margin of error should determine if someone lives or dies for a criminal act.
Andrew Cohen posts, "Supreme Court Case May Stop States That Still Execute Mentally Disabled," at the Atlantic.
I am sitting in front of the language of the law, and I know that it will be this language that decides this case, but the truth is you don't need to be a lawyer or a legal analyst to understand what this dispute is all about. It's about Florida saying that its rigid test to determine which intellectually disabled people should be executed—a test that arrogantly refuses to acknowledge a standard error of measurement universally embraced by the scientific community—nonetheless deserves the respect of the people and the trust of the courts. It does not.
So this case may be about Freddie Lee Hall, the convicted murderer Florida wants to execute even though its courts concluded long ago that he "was mentally retarded his whole life." But in a symbolic way it's also about Marvin Wilson, the man Texas executed in August 2012 even though he sucked his thumb and could not tell the difference between left and right. And it's about Warren Lee Hill, the man Georgia wants to execute even though no mental health expert who has evaluated him now believes that he is anything other than intellectually disabled.
"SCOTUS for law students: Executing the Mentally Retarded," is by Stephen Wermiel for SCOTUSblog.
In 2002, in Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to execute persons who were mentally retarded – a condition for which mental health organizations now use the term “intellectually disabled.” On Monday in the case of Hall v. Florida, the Justices will consider how states should determine when a defendant in a capital case is intellectually disabled.
Although the Court will review the specific practice of only one state, Florida, the decision may have significant practical impact on the definitions in other states that continue to use the death penalty.
Earlier coverage of Hall v. Florida begins at the link.
As I often point out, mental retardation is now generally referred to as a developmental or intellectual disability.
Because it has a specific meaning with respect to capital cases, I continue to use the older term on the website. More on Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court's 2002 ruling banning the execution of those with mental retardation, is via Oyez.
Related posts are in the mental retardation category index.