Criminal Justice – Supreme Court Rejects Arbitrary Definition of Intellectual Disability in Death Penalty Case

The Supreme Court issued a 6-3 ruling in the case Moore v. Texas, reversing the death sentence of Bobby Moore. Moore was convicted of killing a store clerk as part of a botched robbery and was sentenced to death. He challenged the sentence on the grounds of intellectual disability. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) ruled that he did not meet its criteria for intellectual disability under the criteria it established in a previous case, Ex Parte Briseno. The “Briseno factors” are not based on any clinical standards, but rather stereotypes derived in part from the character of Lennie in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Using these standards, the Texas CCA ruled that Moore’s ability to live on the streets, mow lawns, and play pool for money precluded a finding of intellectual disability. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the death sentence, ruling that a state must base its standards for determining intellectual disability on the medical community’s diagnostic framework. For more information, read The Arc’s statement on the Supreme Court decision here.

Supreme Court Reaffirms Atkins v. Virginia Decision

Earlier today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Freddie Lee Hall in the case Hall v. Florida, a death penalty case concerning the definition of intellectual disability (ID) that Florida uses in deciding whether an individual with that disability is protected by the Court’s decision in Atkins v. Virginia. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in the Atkins v. Virginia case that executing inmates with ID is unconstitutional as it violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Hall. The justices stated that Florida cannot rely solely on an IQ score to determine whether an inmate has ID. Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that IQ tests have a margin of error and those inmates whose scores fall within the margin must be allowed to present other evidence. Additionally, Justice Kennedy modified the 2002 Atkins decision by adopting the term “intellectually disabled” and abandoning “mentally retarded,” which has previously been used by the court in its opinions.

To read The Arc’s statement visit our blog.

Hall v. Florida Oral Argument Available Online

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the death penalty case Hall v. Florida concerning the definition of intellectual disability (“mental retardation” is used in court cases) which states use in deciding whether an individual with that disability is protected by the Court’s 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, that execution of people with intellectual disability (ID) is unconstitutional. The oral arguments are now available online.

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Arguments in Florida Death Penalty Case Hall v. Florida Concerning the Definition of “Mental Retardation”

On October 21st, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in the death penalty case Hall v. Florida concerning the definition of “mental retardation”* (intellectual disability) which states may use in deciding whether an individual with that disability is protected by the Court’s 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, that execution of people with intellectual disability (ID) is unconstitutional. The Arc hopes the Court will use the opportunity to clarify its landmark decision barring the execution of people with ID and prevent states from using an artificial “ceiling” of a particular IQ score to determine whether someone does or does not have an ID.

[*Although terminology has widely changed to intellectual disability, the Atkins decision and many other death penalty cases still use the older term.]