The Supreme Court added another high-profile case to an already busy term on Monday, when the Justices agreed to hear a Florida case about capital punishment and the mentally disabled.
The issue at hand is the set of guidelines used by the state of Florida to determine if someone accused of a capital crime is mentally disabled.
Freddie Lee Hall was sentenced to death for killing Karol Hurst, a 21-year-old, pregnant woman who was kidnapped after leaving a grocery store in 1978 in Leesburg, Florida.
In 1989, the Florida Supreme Court threw out Hall’s original death penalty sentence and ordered a new hearing. A court resentenced Hall to death, but also said he was mentally disabled.
In his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Hall’s attorneys said two dissenting judges at the time said testimony reflected that Hall had an estimated IQ of 60.
Hall’s sentencing took place before the Court decided in Atkins v. Virginia (2002) that execution of the mentality disabled was a violation of the Constitution’s Eight Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment.
The Atkins decision left it up to the states to each determine their own definition of mental disability.
Florida law prohibits anyone with an IQ of 70 or higher from being classified as mentally disabled.
Hall’s attorneys filed an appeal after the Atkins decision. But when Hall was given new IQ tests, his scores fell between 71 and 80.
In a subsequent appeal, attorneys claimed testing showed Hall’s IQ range between 67 and 75.
The Florida Supreme Court didn’t agree with the argument from Hall’s attorneys, citing other cases and the Supreme Court’s reasoning in the Atkins case.
Florida is one of nine states with a strict “bright line” IQ limit in death penalty cases. The others are Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington.
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