The Supreme Court announced that it would hear an appeal from a death row inmate in Florida who was ruled mentally disabled in 1992 but later found to be competent after receiving the minimum score on an IQ test. The Court will now decide whether the man is competent and if his execution should move forward.
The Court issued an order saying that it would hear the case and decide whether Florida behaved appropriately when determining whether Freddie Hall was mentally disabled. The case is an important one given that it allows the Court to address the issue of mental capacity and the death penalty once again. Back in 2002 the Court ruled that states could not execute someone who was mentally disabled. The majority wrote that doing so would amount to a violation of the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. However, the 2002 ruling left it up to the state courts to decide who was and who was not disabled.
The case involving Hall allows the Supreme Court to revisit the controversial subject matter and possibly even impose more defined guidelines for states to use when determining mental disability. Many criminal defense experts say they expect the ruling to affect more than just Hall’s case, and that if guidelines are issues it could impact cases in states across the country.
Currently, 32 out of the 50 states allow for the death penalty. However, of the states that permit execution, only a few use different definitions of mental disability than the one approved by the American Psychiatric Association. These states include Florida, Georgia and Texas.
According to the APA, intellectual disability should be assessed not only through standardized examinations, such as an IQ test, but also based on evaluations by trained clinicians. These examinations should involve assessments of how the subject performs everyday tasks such as personal care and how they interact with others.
In this case, 68-year-old Hall was convicted in the shooting deaths of a police officer and a pregnant woman back in 1978. The state considered Hall’s competence for the first time in 19992 and found him to be mentally disabled. However, after the Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling, all death row inmates were given new IQ tests. The second time around Hall scored a 71, technically qualifying as competent under Florida’s rules.
IQ tests are measured on scales between 45 and 155, with the average score being 100. In Florida, a person can be found mentally disabled if they meet three qualifications. First, the person must have an IQ score below 70, demonstrating below average intellectual functioning. Second, they must have trouble living independently and finally, they must demonstrate these issues before they turn 18.
Hall’s attorney argued that Florida inappropriately uses a bright line test to determine disability, something that the makers of the IQ test never intended. The defense lawyers argue that Hall instead should be viewed as having an IQ range, one that extends from 67 to 75. Under Florida’s law those with IQ scores above 70 cannot be considered mentally disabled, something that Hall’s lawyers argues leads to cruel and unusual punishment.
Source: “Supreme Court to look at death row inmate with low IQ,” by The Associated Press, published at CBSNews.com.