US Supreme Court to examine IQ threshold for the death penalty
By David Ingram, ReutersWASHINGTON--The U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday it would hear a death row appeal from a Florida man ruled mentally disabled in 1992 but later found competent to be executed after he scored 71 on an IQ test, the minimum under state law.
October 23, 2013, 12:08 am TWN
In a brief order, the court said it would consider whether Florida used a lawful process to determine that convicted murderer Freddie Lee Hall, awaiting execution pending appeals, was not mentally disabled after all.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that states could not execute someone who was mentally disabled because doing so violated the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, but the court left it to states to define who was disabled.
Hall's case gives the court the opportunity to revisit the matter and possibly order some U.S. states to change how they determine who is eligible for the death penalty.
“I suspect their ruling will affect not just Florida but the other states as well,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a non-profit in Washington that compiles execution data.
Thirty-two of the 50 U.S. states allow the death penalty, but only a handful of states vary from the definition of mental disability used by psychiatrists and others, Dieter said. Those states include Florida, Georgia and Texas.
The American Psychiatric Association this year dropped the term “mental retardation” in favor of “intellectual disability,” which it says should be assessed not only with standardized tests but with clinical evaluations of everyday tasks such as language ability, social judgment and personal care.
The case puts yet another major U.S. social issue back in front of the Supreme Court's nine justices, who in the past year have also taken up questions involving same-sex marriage, racial preferences and abortion.
Human rights activists worldwide decry the death penalty.
The court left room in 2002 to return to the topic of mental disability and the death penalty. Justice John Paul Stevens' opinion for a 6-3 majority referenced clinical definitions of mental disability but did not explicitly adopt them as the court's own.
Justice Antonin Scalia, a senior conservative member of the court, wrote in dissent that the question was best left to jurors in part because “the symptoms of this condition can readily be feigned.”