High Court To Rule On Determining Mental Disability in Capital Cases


More than a decade after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision barring execution of the mentally retarded, the justices have agreed to examine how to determine mental disability in capital cases, reports the National Law Journal. The court agreed to review Hall v. Florida, a challenge to the state’s law that sets a bright-line cutoff of an IQ of 70 or below to qualify as mentally retarded and exempt from the death penalty. The case involves Freddie Hall, who was sentenced to death for a 1978 murder.

Death penalty supporter Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Foundation asked whether the court was preparing to micromanage decisions about mental retardation just as it micromanaged states’ capital sentencing systems after its ruling in 1976 reinstating the death penalty. The case gives the court a way to avoid micromanaging this area, said John Blume of the death penalty project at Cornell University School of Law. The justices would avoid micromanagement by ruling that there is a clinical definition of mental retardation and states should adhere to it, he said.

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