The Supreme Court ruling that states may not rely on fixed I.Q. score cutoffs to decide intellectual competency in criminal cases affects about 30 death row inmates, many in Florida and Kentucky, the New York Times reports. It increased the likelihood that convicts like Florida’s Ted Herring will have a chance to avoid execution. Herring has spent 32 years on death row for murdering a store clerk. A judge found him “mentally retarded” and removed him from death row but the Florida Supreme Court returned him there because he had scored 72 and 74 on I.Q. tests, just above the state’s “bright line” cutoff of 70.
The case affects so few inmates because most states follow modern standards of determining intellectual disabilities, going beyond using a single number to be considered disabled. In the states that will be affected, death row inmates with low, but not low enough, I.Q. scores can seek to have their sentences reconsidered. Ten states either consistently apply an I.Q. cutoff score — without factoring in a five-point swing for error — in making their determination or are free to do so. Florida, Kentucky, Alabama and Virginia do it most often. In Florida, 15 to 20 inmates — perhaps the largest number in the U.S. — will probably seek to overturn their death sentences because of the decision.