"Upholding the Law and the Constitution," is by Diann Rust-Tierney at the ACS blog. She's the Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
On March 3, 2014, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Hall v. Florida.
The question presented is narrow: Whether Florida’s statutory scheme for identifying defendants with “mental retardation," as interpreted by the Florida Supreme Court, violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against executing people with intellectual disabilities as articulated in Atkins?
As a note of reference “intellectual disabilities,” adopted since the Court ruled in Atkins, is the preferred clinical term over “mental retardation.”
At stake is whether Florida is obliged to honor the limits imposed by the eighth amendment and refrain from executing a man who falls within the class of people for whom the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment. This inquiry goes to the heart of the deal struck in Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976). In Gregg the Supreme Court held that the death penalty could be administered in a manner consistent with the Constitution. The Court’s ruling was premised on the reasonable expectation that states will work within the framework created by the Court as the final arbiter of constitutional standards for the practice. This premise cannot hold, however, if states continuously seek to circumvent these standards by erecting barriers to the recognition of constitutional rights.
ABA Journal posts, "The death penalty and the mentally disabled," by Erwin Chemerinsky. He's the founding Dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law.
Freddie Lee Hall was tried and convicted for a murder that occurred in 1978. At a hearing on whether to impose the death penalty, Hall's lawyers presented evidence that he is mentally retarded. His teachers had identified his mental disabilities and labeled him "mentally retarded." Doctors who examined him concluded that Hall was "extremely impaired psychiatrically, neurologically and intellectually," that he showed signs of "serious brain impairment," and that he "is probably incapable of even the most ... basic living skills which incorporate math and reading." On intelligence tests, his IQ measured at 60, 76, 79, and 80, all in the range of being mentally retarded. Nonetheless, the Florida trial court sentenced him to death.
In 2001, Florida enacted a statute that prohibits the execution of persons with mental retardation. The law defines mental retardation as "significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning" as measured by a "performance that is two or more standard deviations from the mean score on a standardized intelligence test specified in the rules." In 2007, the Florida Supreme Court interpreted this law to mean that only those with an I.Q. score of 70 or below qualify as mentally retarded. Cherry v. State.
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.