The U.S. Supreme Court has handed down a landmark decision concerning how state’s can determine mental disabilities in death penalty cases. A Florida appeals attorney explains the background and meaning of the ruling.
How the Case Came Before the Court
In 1978, Freddie Hall was convicted of murdering Karol Hurst, a 21-year-old pregnant woman. Hall was given the death penalty for his crime. Mr. Hall appealed that sentence. His lawyers claimed he was mentally disabled and therefore ineligible to receive the death penalty. Hall was given IQ testing on more than one occasion. His scores between 70 and 80, though his lawyers argued that his true IQ was likely below 70. Previously, Florida law stated that defendants with at least a 70 IQ could not be determined mentally disabled.If allowed to stand, Hall’s 70+ IQ score would render him unable to claim mental disability and his death sentence would proceed.
A Florida Federal Appeals Attorney Explains the Opinion
As a federal appeals attorney discusses, the Supreme Court Justices struck down the Florida law as unconstitutional in a 5-4 decision. Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion for the Court. He cited the unreliability of IQ testing as the sole measure of intelligence in an individual. The majority stressed that other factors could be used to determine the true intelligence of a criminal defendant. IQ testing, the court said, can be unreliable as an indicator of intelligence for those suffering from learning disabilities or other conditions that might impact test performance. It remains unclear from the opinion exactly what Hall’s fate may ultimately be. For now though, as a appeals attorney can counsel Florida’s law setting a minimum IQ for determining mental disability cannot stand.
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