Wednesday, October 23, 2013

SCOTUS to review mental disability under Atkins v. Virginia

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to determine what constitutes mental disibility under Atkins v. Virginia which abolished the death penalty for the mentally retarded in 2002.

The new case, Hall v. Florida, No. 12-10882, arose from the 1978 murder of Karol Hurst, who was 21 and seven months pregnant when Freddie L. Hall and an accomplice forced her into her car in a supermarket parking lot. She was found in a wooded area, where she had been beaten, sexually assaulted and shot, reported Adam Liptak of the New York Times.
Hall was convicted of murdering Hurst and sentenced to death.
The Atkins decision gave states substantial latitude in how to carry it out and gave only general guidance. It said a finding of mental retardation requires proof of three things: “subaverage intellectual functioning,” meaning low IQ scores; a lack of fundamental social and practical skills; and the presence of both conditions before age 18. The court said IQ scores under “approximately 70” typically indicate retardation.
A Florida law enacted not long before the Atkins decision created what Hall’s lawyers called an “inflexible bright-line cutoff” requiring proof of an IQ of 70 or below. Last year, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Hall was eligible to be executed because his IQ had been measured at various times as 71, 73 and 80.
In a concurrence, Justice Barbara J. Pariente noted that “Florida, while not unique in its use of a bright-line cutoff score of 70, is not in the majority, although there is no clear national consensus.”
She added that the language of the Florida law and earlier decisions of her court required that Hall be put to death. “At some point in the future,” she added, “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.”
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