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

Analyst: Joint-Arab Military Force Poses Perilous Challenge

Although international forces are desperately needed to counter the threat of the Islamic State group, analysts say conflicting alliances could escalate fighting More

Asia’s Middle Class Changes Demand for Wheat Grain Exporters

Changes in tastes and diets are boon for wheat exporters such as Australia and the United States More

S. African Comedian Taking Over Popular TV Show

Mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah, who is loved for his edgy jibes about race and language, is taking the helm from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show in US More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

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