The high court made that determination in the case of Bobby Moore, whom the court decided is intellectually disabled.
Moore's case highlights the complexities surrounding intellectual disability and the death penalty. The Supreme Court has ruled that those with intellectual disabilities can’t be executed, and after reviewing Moore’s case in 2016, it tossed out the way the Texas court determines the disability in 2017. The Texas court previously relied on decades-old medical standards and a controversial set of factors created by judges to make the determination, including how well the inmate could lie.
After that ruling, the prosecutor sided with Moore and said that he is intellectually disabled, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals still disagreed, claiming last Junethat he was eligible for execution under current medical standards as well. Now, the high court has stepped in again, and this time, the majority of justices made clear that Moore has shown he is disabled and therefore ineligible for execution. The court's opinion knocked the Texas court for relying on the same methods it had ruled against in the 2017 opinion, like focusing on Moore's strengths instead of his weaknesses, especially strengths gained in a controlled prison environment.
The justices also said that despite the Texas court saying it had eliminated its controversial set of factors, which the high court said were problematic for advancing stereotypes, "it seems to have used many of those factors in reaching its conclusion."
"To be sure, the court of appeals opinion is not identical to the opinion we considered in Moore," the justices wrote. "There are sentences here and there suggesting other modes of analysis consistent with what we said. But there are also sentences here and there suggesting reliance upon what we earlier called 'lay stereotypes of the intellectually disabled.'"
Moore, 59, was sentenced to death more than 38 years ago after he fatally shot a 73-year-old clerk during a Houston robbery in 1980. In 2014, a Texas court determined under current medical standards that Moore was intellectually disabled — with evidence including low IQ scores and his inability to tell time or days of the week as a teenager.
But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overruled that decision, saying the lower court failed to use its test in making the determination. The Supreme Court invalidated that method upon review.
"By rejecting the habeas court’s application of medical guidance and clinging to the standard it laid out ... the CCA failed adequately to inform itself of the 'medical community’s diagnostic framework,'" Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the 5-3 opinion in 2017.
In an unusual step, the prosecutor — Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat — filed a brief to the Texas court after that ruling stating that she agreed with Moore that he was intellectually disabled and should not be executed. In a surprise June opinion, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed to use current medical standards as a method to determine if a death row inmate had an intellectual disability but said that Moore still did not qualify.