Death Penalty

Supreme Court Strikes Down I.Q. Requirement in Death Penalty Case


In 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court held the execution of "mentally retarded criminals" to be unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. Today, by a vote of 5-4, the Court extended that ruling to invalidate a Florida statute governing the use of I.Q. tests in death penalty cases.

At issue today in Hall v. Florida was an appeal filed by a convicted murderer named Freddie Lee Hall, who maintains that his capital sentence is illegitimate under that 2002 precedent due to his intellectual disability. As evidence of this disability, Hall presented state officials with test results showing his I.Q. score to be 71. Under Florida law, however, Hall must, as a threshold matter, score 70 or less on an I.Q. test before any further consideration may be given to his intellectual disability case.

Credit: C-Span

Writing today for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy struck down what he called Florida's "rigid rule" because it deprived Hall and others like him of a "fair opportunity to show that the Constitution prohibits their execution." According to the Court, "Freddie Lee Hall may or may not be intellectually disabled, but the law requires that he have the opportunity to present evidence of his intellectual disability, including deficits in adaptive functioning over his lifetime."

Writing in dissent, Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, criticized Kennedy for "strik[ing] down a state law based on the evolving standards of professional societies, most notably the American Psychiatric Association," rather than respecting the judgment of Florida lawmakers. "Under our modern Eighth Amendment cases," Alito argued, "what counts are our society's standards—which is to say, the standards of the American people—not the standards of professional associations, which at best represent the views of a small professional elite."

Kennedy, by contrast, had the following to say about the deference due to the I.Q. threshold set by Florida officials: "The States are laboratories for experimentation, but those experiments may not deny the basic dignity the Constitution protects."

The Court's opinion in Hall v. Florida is available here.

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  1. In conjunction with the police chase decision also handed down today, I guess this just means more executions will have to occur at the front end of the process.

  2. I totally disagree with the 2002 ruling. Why should punishment hinge on intellectual ability? If anything, I’m more inclined to execute murderers who are mentally retarded. But maybe I’m just an insensitive fellow.

    1. There’s a long tradition about one’s mindset being related to one’s culpability in our common law system. We’ve always treated planed events as more serious as impulsive ones, knowing actions as more serious as than reckless ones, etc.

      1. We’ve always treated planed events as more serious

        Would that be hand-planed or machine-planed?

        1. I’m thinking more likely the astral or logoic myself.

          1. Just apply a little geometry and case solved.

      2. Being retarded is not the same as being drunk or insane. It doesn’t take much of an IQ to know that it’s wrong to rob, rape, and murder people. Being stupid does not excuse you from being evil. His crimes were horrible and quite planned. Execute him.

    2. I agree with you. Being mentally retarded does not excuse murder. Only the bleeding heart liberals think otherwise.

  3. IQ tests are notoriously flawed measures of intelligence, and can be easily faked when administered to a convict whose life is on the line. If you really want to know whether someone in Florida is retarded, just ask them if they are Gator fans.

    1. A diploma from the University of Miami may also serve as compelling evidence.

  4. I’m sorry, but how is any “standard” of competence not equally arbitrary. Until we can send the judge or jury into this person’s memories, there will always be a line that the prosecutor and the defense lawyers will each be trying to drag marginal defendants across. This is a shit decision. Especially since mental retardation was, at the time, literally defined by being two standard deviations or more below average intelligence. They’ve essentially told the states that mental incompetence has no determinate meaning.

  5. “The States are laboratories for experimentation, but those experiments may not deny the basic dignity the Constitution protects.”

    If only they’d apply that logic more consistently…we might not have state laws that submit basic freedoms to micromanaging regulations.

  6. How smart do you have to be to know you shouldn’t beat, rape and shoot a woman who is 7 months pregnant?

    1. Even if the biotch *disses* you?!

      1. They did that to obtain a car to use in a robbery, a level of planning that contradicts the idea that his purported IQ somehow shows that he was not capable of comprehending his crimes.

  7. “the law requires that he have the opportunity to present evidence of his intellectual disability, including deficits in adaptive functioning”

    “Your Honor, I believe my client’s murder conviction should be sufficient evidence.”

  8. “They shoot *horses*, don’t they?”

  9. IQ tests are a terrible way to determine eligibility for the death penalty. A 70 IQ for a middle class white child is almost always a symptom of a serious genetic or developmental problem. That’s why this cutoff is appealing to lawyers and legislators. But something like an eighth of African Americans have IQs 70 or lower (think Rachel Jenteal). These people are certainly dumb, but they don’t usually have problems doing normal human things like low-skilled labor or understanding that murder is wrong.

    1. I was actually surprised to learn, about a decade ago, that the functional “developmentally disabled” often go to college.

    2. I’m not sure where you got that data, but it sounds suspect. Besides, IQ is an indicator of what you have learned, not what you are capable of learning.

      Feel free to disagree, but provide some supporting data, please.

  10. Not sure if this is a “win” for the disabled. My interpretation is that there is no hard “floor” anymore. Could a defendant with a measured IQ of, say, 65 now be determined to be competent and be give the death sentence?

  11. Just makin’ stuff up.

  12. These murderous scumbags are retarded, but they can somehow drive getaway cars, figure out which end of the pistol the bullets go into, figure out how to rape a woman before they kill her, etc. etc.

    Enough. Start cleaning the damn gene pool already. Bring back hanging.

  13. It is standard practice in psychological assessment that someone with an IQ in the 70-75 range may or may not qualify as having an intellectual disability (aka mental retardation). They take into consideration adaptive functioning, using a supplemental assessment such as the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales. IF you’re gonna have a rule that someone with an intellectual disability can’t be executed, then current assessment standards should be used (vs. outdated ones such as the hard cut-off at 70). Now, whether or not the original ruling that someone who has mental retardation can’t be executed was correct is another argument. I’m personally against the death penalty, so I figure anything that reduces it’s use is a good thing. But if you believe the death penalty is just fine, then the line between “intellectual disability” and “borderline intellectual functioning” (or even the low end of normal-range IQ) is arbitrary and doesn’t really make sense. If the person is truly incompetent, they should be found incompetent to stand trial and, if a threat to society, institutionalized. And if there is evidence that the low-IQ person was strongly influenced by others to commit the crime (i.e. in gang-related violence), then their IQ should be taken into account during the trial and sentencing.

  14. Never take an IQ test while in school, because your state deems IQ tests to be un-PC, and because your mother believes that IQ tests merely reenforce privilege.
    Grow up to be an unemployable aimless young man.
    While holding up a gas station, you get nervous and kill the cashier.
    You are arrested, charged, and convicted of murder in the course of committing an armed robbery.
    Before the sentencing, the judge orders you to take an IQ test. You give deliberate wrong answers, resulting in an IQ of 60.
    The judge, citing the 2002 SCOTUS decision, reluctantly instructs the jury that the death penalty is impossible.

    That is why the SCOTUS in 2002 was hopelessly naive. IQ tests are very easily gamed downward, people.

    1. True.

    2. In fact, you don’t even have to give wrong answers, just slow ones, assuming the IQ test is similar to what I took decades ago. At least some answers were timed with a stopwatch.

  15. “Under our modern Eighth Amendment cases,” Alito argued, “what counts are our society’s standards?which is to say, the standards of the American people?not the standards of professional associations, which at best represent the views of a small professional elite.”

    Particularly when that “professional association” changes definitions of mental illnesses based on political pressure.

  16. It’s amazing how he’s smart enough to commit crimes, but too stupid to be executed for them.

    Hang the SOB high, and tar-and-feather his lawyers.

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