The Death Penalty and Intellectual Disability

In oral argument this past week, in Moore v. Texas, the Supreme Court considered how states can properly define intellectual disability for purposes of capital punishment – a nagging question left hanging by Atkins v. Virginia, the 2002 case that held the 8th Amendment’s bar on cruel and unusual punishment prohibits the execution of the intellectually disabled. Later, in 2014’s Hall v. Florida, the court held the determination of who is mentally disabled should be “informed by the medical community’s diagnostic framework.” In finding Bobbie Moore, whose IQ has been measured in the low 70’s, to be eligible for the death penalty, Texas courts used a framework that relied (among other things) on standards for intellectual disability that date back to 1992, as outlined in a 2004 decision by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Per Amy Hall of SCOTUSblog, the argument seemed to go well for Mr. Moore’s case, with essentially the same 5 justices who decided Hall v Florida – Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan – appearing to be critical of the Texas rule. Unclear is  what effect the court’s ruling might have on other Texas inmates, and on inmates on death row in other states.

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