News / USA

US High Court to Examine IQ Threshold for Death Penalty

FILE - News microphones wait to capture reactions from US Supreme Court rulings outside the court building in Washington.
FILE - News microphones wait to capture reactions from US Supreme Court rulings outside the court building in Washington.
Reuters
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.
 
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 currently 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.”
 
‘Bright Line’ Dispute
 
At the center of the new case is Hall, 68 years old and convicted in the 1978 shooting deaths of a sheriff's deputy and a woman who was seven months pregnant.
 
In 1992, the first time state courts considered his competence, they found Hall to be mentally disabled, according to a brief filed by Hall's lawyer. However, after the U.S. Supreme Court's 2002 ruling, Hall was tested again and was found competent with the IQ score of 71.
 
IQ is measured on a scale from 45 to 155 on a test known as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. The average is 100, while “1 to 3 percent of the population has an IQ between 70 and 75 or lower,” the Supreme Court said in the 2002 ruling.
 
Under Florida law, there is a three-part test for determining whether people are mentally disabled. They must have below subaverage intellectual functioning and difficulty living independently, and they must show it before age 18.
 
Hall's lawyer said Florida's courts improperly are using a “bright line” standard for determining subaverage intellectual functioning; those with IQ scores of 70 or below may be mentally disabled, while those with scores of 71 or above may not be.
 
The inventors of the test that Hall took did not intend for it to give a bright-line answer, only a range of possible scores. Hall's range would be 67 to 75, the lawyer said.
 
In urging the Supreme Court to stay out of the case, Florida's attorney general stressed that the state has a three-part test, not a single test based on IQ alone. It also said that Hall had scored as high as 80 on one test, and that the question was best left for states to answer.
 
The court's 2002 ruling “expressly left the task of defining retardation to the states,” the state argued.
 
Oral arguments and a ruling are expected before the end of June 2014.

You May Like

Will Cuba Follow the Southeast Asia Model?

Decision to restore ties between US and Cuba has some debating whether it will lead to an enhancement or regression of democracy on the Communist island nation More

Kenyan Designer Finds Her Niche in Fashion Industry

‘Made in China’ fabrics underlie her success More

Report: CIA, Israel's Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Commander

The Washington Post story says Imad Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Lateri
X
Deborah Block
January 31, 2015 12:12 AM
Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid