Following a 5-4 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, Florida is no longer allowed to use IQ tests to determine if a person is mentally eligible to receive the death penalty. Before Tuesday’s decision, Florida and other states that still impose capital punishment used an IQ cutoff of 70 to decide if an inmate was mentally competent to receive the death penalty. Some states, including Florida, adopted this policy after the Supreme Court’s 2002 decision to block executions of inmates deemed “mentally retarded.”
"Intellectual disability is a condition, not a number," said Justice Anthony Kennedy. "Florida's law contravenes our nation's commitment to dignity and its duty to teach human decency as the mark of a civilized world. The states are laboratories for experimentation, but those experiments may not deny the basic dignity the Constitution protects."
The court’s decision in Hall v. Florida involved 68-year-old Freddie Lee Hall, who killed a 21-year-old pregnant woman and a deputy sheriff back in 1978. Hall’s lawyers argued the defendant was considered functionally illiterate and suffers from brain damage, psychosis, a speech impediment, learning disability, and the short-term memory of a first-grader. After scoring an IQ of 71, the state decided he was mentally capable of receiving the death penalty.
The Supreme Court’s 2002 landmark decision in Atkins v. Virginia found the execution of intellectually disabled inmates to be “cruel and unusual punishment.” It also determined that this punishment was “excessive” and in direct violation of the Eighth Amendment. Four inmates on death row in Florida and Alabama are in a similar situation as Hall, USA Today reported. Those looking for a complete end to the death penalty in all 32 states that still allow it say there is still more to be done to abolish this outdated form of punishment.
"People with mental retardation are 2.5 % of the population. It might be a little higher on death row. So we are not talking hundreds of inmates here," Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center Richard Dieter told NBC News. "But this is a further refinement of the court’s restrictions on the death penalty and it makes it clear they meant what they said in 2002: people with mental retardation under the normal definition in the profession should be excluded. It’s not each state deciding for itself."