A defendant may be spared the death penalty because he is mentally deficient in one area, even if his IQ score falls in the normal range, says a California Supreme Court ruling reported by the Los Angeles Times. The unanimous ruling rejected an appeals court decision that “full scale” IQ scores –composites of tests of various mental faculties – are the best measure of intelligence. The justices said the best way to measure intellectual functioning may vary from case to case.
The decision gives judges broader discretion to spare defendants from execution for reasons of mental impairment. Because the legal definition of mental retardation does not rely on a fixed IQ score, trial courts may give greater weight to certain kinds of evidence than others, the court said. John Philipsborn, who represented a group of criminal-defense lawyers in the case, said the ruling will affect at least 28 death row prisoners and at least eight defendants who are claiming mental retardation before trial. The decision was a victory for Jorge Junior Vidal, one of several men charged with the murder, torture, and sodomy of a 17-year-old boy in 2001.