Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Justices question Florida use of IQ in death penalty cases

WASHINGTON — A majority of the Supreme Court seemed skeptical on Monday of how Florida uses IQ in death penalty cases.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court's frequent swing vote, joined more liberal justices in questioning Florida's rigid IQ score threshold for determining intellectual disability. Kennedy's positioning hinted at the possibility that the court might strike down the strict IQ rule used by Florida, Idaho, Kentucky and several other states with the death penalty.

The Supreme Court decided in Atkins vs. Virginia in 2002 that the execution of those variously called mentally retarded or intellectually disabled violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

The Atkins decision gave states substantial discretion and only general guidance. It said a finding of intellectual disability 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 intellectual disability.

Florida imposes a three-part test, which starts with a rigid requirement that the inmate score 70 or below on the IQ test. If the inmate scores below the cutoff number, the state also will assess for "deficits in adaptive behavior" and an onset before the age of 18.

Freddie Lee Hall, the 68-year-old convicted murderer whose case was before the Supreme Court on Monday, has been on the state's death row since 1978. Hall was convicted in the murders of a pregnant Sumter County woman and Hernando County sheriff's Deputy Lonnie Coburn. Hall and an accomplice, Mack Ruffin, were given life sentences for Coburn's death.

Hall had generally scored slightly above 70 on IQ tests.

Florida Solicitor General Allen Winsor said the state's approach was "a reasonable legislative judgment," one he said was followed in eight states.

But Kennedy and Justice Elena Kagan said the effect of Florida's rigid approach is to stop consideration of the other two factors in the analysis suggested in the Atkins decision.

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

Justices question Florida use of IQ in death penalty cases 03/03/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 12:20am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Perfection's not easy in baseball, just ask Calvary Christian

    Baseballpreps

    CLEARWATER — Of the more than 300 varsity high school baseball teams in Florida, only one has won every game this season: Calvary Christian. The Warriors are a perfect 28-0.

    Calvary Christian's Matheu Nelson (63) prepares to take an at bat during the first inning of Wednesday's (5/10/17) region baseball semifinal game between Trinity Prep and Calvary Christian in Clearwater.
  2. Editorial: Plundering Florida's precious springs

    Editorials

    In the same meeting where it imposed tighter water restrictions on Tampa Bay residents due to drought, the Southwest Florida Water Management District board voted to allow developers to further plunder a critical water source. The paradoxical votes are reflective of a state water policy that caters to developers to the …

    In the same meeting where it imposed tighter water restrictions on Tampa Bay residents due to drought, the Southwest Florida Water Management District board voted to allow developers to further plunder a critical water source.
  3. Clearwater firefighters rescue girl trapped between pipes

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — Firefighters rescued a 14-year-old girl who whose leg was trapped between two pipes on Franklin Street on Thursday afternoon, Clearwater fire rescue said.

    Paramedics load a 14-year-old girl onto a helicopter after she injured her leg when she was trapped between a few pipes in Clearwater.
  4. St. Petersburg man pleads guilty to Deepwater Horizon fraud scheme

    Criminal

    TAMPA — A St. Petersburg man charged federally with filing fraudulent claims in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster has pleaded guilty, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Thursday.

  5. Jacksonville Port expansion gets a boost with Trump budget

    Blogs

    Efforts to expand the Jacksonville harbor got a major boost with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers committing $17.5 million for the project, which would all but ensure future funding