SCOTUSblog: Executing the Mentally Retarded

“On Monday in the case of Hall v. Florida, the Justices will consider how states should determine when a defendant in a capital case is intellectually disabled.”

“In 2002, in Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to execute persons who were mentally retarded – a condition for which mental health organizations now use the term “intellectually disabled.” On Monday in the case of Hall v. Florida, the Justices will consider how states should determine when a defendant in a capital case is intellectually disabled.

Although the Court will review the specific practice of only one state, Florida, the decision may have significant practical impact on the definitions in other states that continue to use the death penalty.

The Justices will decide whether a state may make a specific level of IQ testing – seventy or less – a threshold for determining that a defendant is intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for the death penalty. The case may draw the Court into discussion of how IQs are measured and how much flexibility there must be in weighing variations in IQ test scores for life-and-death criminal justice decisions. The case also challenges the Justices to consider how much deference should be shown to the standards and norms of mental health professionals when states establish a definition for intellectual disabilities.

The case is important not only to students of capital punishment, but also to those who are studying the criminal justice system, sentencing procedures, law and mental health, habeas corpus review, and federalism.”

Stephen Wermiel, SCOTUS for law students (sponsored by Bloomberg Law): Executing the Mentally Retarded, SCOTUSblog (Feb. 28, 2014, 11:02 AM), http://www.scotusblog.com/2014/02/scotus-for-law-students-sponsored-by-bloomberg-law-executing-the-mentally-retarded/

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