The Supreme Court Revisits the Meaning of Intellectually Disabled

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in Hall v. Florida on March 3, 2014, 12 years after Atkins v. Virginia.

The case revolves around the adoption of a flexible rule regarding the meaning of intellectual deficiency, as opposed to the inflexible bright-line rule that exists in Florida.

Florida’s standard eschews statistical principles and disregards the standard error of measurement. Thus, there is a rigid requirement of an IQ of 70 or below. Hall, with IQs of 71 and 73 on separate testing dates, did not make the cut.

So, what’s the big deal with just one or few points more or less? For Hall, the standard error of measurement is the difference between life and death.

Hot off the press, an article in the ABA’s National Law Journal published February 5, 2014:

Justices Asked to Define ‘Mentally Retarded’ in Death Cases

http://www.nationallawjournal.com/id=1202641731055/Justices+Asked+to+Define+Mentally+Retarded+in+Death+Cases%3Fmcode=0&curindex=0&curpage=ALL

Hall v. Florida (briefed by OYEZ):

http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2013/2013_12_10882

Full case:

Hall v. State, 109 So. 3d 704 – Fla: Supreme Court 2012

Holding: The Supreme Court of Florida affirmed the lower court.

In essence: Hall was excluded from consideration because he was above the IQ score cut-off which was the first prong of the test.

Excerpt from J. Pariente (concurring):

At some point in the future, the United States Supreme Court may determine that a bright-line cutoff is unconstitutional because of the risk of executing an individual who is in fact mentally retarded. However, until that time, this Court is not at liberty to deviate from the plain language of section 921.137(i).

http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?q=%22109+so.3d+704%22&hl=en&as_sdt=6,50&case=17658209165662130573&scilh=0

Pariente, in essence, despite concurring, opened the door for Hall’s attorneys to petition the Supreme Court for Writ of Certiorari which was done (June 6, 2013):

http://sblog.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Hall-12-10882-Petition.pdf

Question Presented: Whether the Florida scheme for identifying mental retarded defendants in capital cases violates Atkins v. Virginia.

This is a very good read as it addresses psychological testing in unusual detail and explains (with heavy emphasis added) what measurement error is (p 12).

Major precedents:

Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 US 302 – Supreme Court 1989

Holding: The judgment is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case is remanded.

In essence: Although mental retardation is a factor that may well lessen a defendant’s culpability for a capital offense, the Eighth Amendment does not preclude the execution of any mentally retarded person simply by virtue of his or her mental retardation alone.

Excerpt:

In sum, mental retardation is a factor that may well lessen a defendant’s culpability for a capital offense. But we cannot conclude today that the Eighth Amendment precludes the execution of any mentally retarded person of Penry’s ability convicted of a capital offense simply by virtue of his or her mental retardation alone. So long as sentencers can consider and give effect to mitigating evidence of mental retardation in imposing sentence, an individualized determination whether “death is the appropriate punishment” can be made in each particular case. While a national consensus against execution of the mentally retarded may someday emerge reflecting the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,” there is insufficient evidence of such a consensus today.

http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=492&invol=302

The statement, “While a national consensus against execution of the mentally retarded may someday emerge reflecting the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,” there is insufficient evidence of such a consensus today” gives you an idea of how far the law lags behind public interest, briefly defined as that which is beneficial to the public, in this case, human rights.

It took 13 years for the Supreme Court to reverse Penry v. Lynaugh because evolving standards of decency now made it ripe to do so (see quote in excerpt immediately below).

Atkins v. Virginia, 536 US 304 – Supreme Court 2002

Holding: Executions of mentally retarded criminals are “cruel and unusual punishments” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.

Excerpt:

Our independent evaluation of the issue reveals no reason to disagree with the judgment of “the legislatures that have recently addressed the matter” and concluded that death is not a suitable punishment for a mentally retarded criminal. We are not persuaded that the execution of mentally retarded criminals will measurably advance the deterrent or the retributive purpose of the death penalty. Construing and applying the Eighth Amendment in the light of our “evolving standards of decency,” we therefore conclude that such punishment is excessive and that the Constitution “places a substantive restriction on the State’s power to take the life” of a mentally retarded offender.

http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=000&invol=00-8452

Procedural history of Hall v. State:

http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/freddie-lee-hall-v-florida/

Amici Curiae by the APA and several other associations:

http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/supreme_court_preview/briefs-v2/12-10882_pet_amicus_apa.authcheckdam.pdf

Worth the read, 32 pages, filed 12/23/13.

There are several other Amici Curiae that were filed.

The respondent’s lengthy brief (Florida) was filed on 01/27/14:

http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/supreme_court_preview/briefs-v3/12-10882_resp.authcheckdam.pdf

Ladies and gentlemen, this is history in the making.

 

Roy

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