High Court to Hear New Case on Death Penalty, Retardation

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The U.S. Supreme Court next Tuesday will hear a case that questions intellectual disabilities and the death penalty, specifically what standards states may use in determining whether a defendant convicted of murder is mentally deficient, NPR reports. In 2002, the justices barred the execution of the intellectually disabled. It left the states considerable room to decide who is “mentally retarded.” Two years ago, the court told states they were not free to use a rigid IQ number to determine “retardation,” but instead “must be informed by the medical community’s diagnostic framework.” Now, Texas is defending its use of standards that major medical organizations do not endorse. The state’s test is based on what the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals called “a consensus of Texas citizens,” that not all those who meet the “social services definition” of “retardation” should be exempt from the death penalty.

The case involves Bobby Moore, whose gun discharged during a botched robbery, killing a 70-year-old store clerk in Houston in 1980. There is no doubt about his guilt or about the fact that he has limited mental abilities. Even the prosecution’s psychologist testified at trial that Moore likely “suffers from borderline intellectual functioning.” Moore’s lawyers argue that Texas is using outdated standards to determine “retardation,” instead of the current medical standards required by the U.S. Supreme Court. Texas argues that there is no national standard, and that the state should not be limited to current medical diagnostic tools or standards. An appeals court concluded that Moore was not sufficiently disabled to qualify for exemption from the death penalty. Now the Supreme Court will decide, and its ruling could affect the standards in other states.

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