Magazine article Developments in Mental Health Law

United States Supreme Court to Review Florida's Bright-Line IQ Test to Determine Mental Retardation in Capital Cases

Magazine article Developments in Mental Health Law

United States Supreme Court to Review Florida's Bright-Line IQ Test to Determine Mental Retardation in Capital Cases

Article excerpt

The United States Supreme Court has granted a capital prisoner's Petition for Writ of Certiorari to determine whether Florida's scheme utilizing a bright-line IQ score of 70 for identifying defendants with mental retardation in capital cases violates Atkins v. Virginia. Hall v. Florida, No. 12-10882,--S. Ct.--, 2013 WL 3153535(mem) (Oct. 21, 2013). In Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), the Supreme Court held that the execution of defendants with mental retardation violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. In a per curiam opinion, the Florida Supreme Court determined that the defendant could not meet the first prong of the mental retardation standard establishing a maximum IQ score of 70 and upheld his death sentence. Hall v. Florida, 109 So. Ed 704 (Fla. 2012). Should the Supreme Court overturn Florida's scheme, the decision could impact mental retardation determinations in the states that still employ the death penalty, especially the twelve states, including Virginia, that have either a statutory or case law bright-line rule that does not apply the standard error measurement.

Freddie Lee Hall was convicted in 1981 for the 1978 murder of a man he kidnapped while robbing a convenience store. Upon fleeing the scene of the robbery, Hall stole a car and kidnapped his victim, and then drove approximately 18 miles to a wooded area where he killed him. Hall appealed his conviction, which was upheld, and filed numerous post-conviction petitions through the years, all of which were eventually denied.

In 1988, Hall again challenged his death sentence, arguing based on a then recently decided United States Supreme Court decision holding that all mitigating factors, and not just statutory mitigation, must be considered by the judge and jury. The Florida Supreme Court granted Hall's petition in 1989 and remanded his case to the trial court for a new sentencing proceeding. During his resentencing hearing, the trial court found Hall to be mentally retarded as a mitigating factor but gave it "unquantifiable" weight, finding aggravating factors that outweighed the mental retardation factor, and again sentenced him to death. The Florida Supreme Court upheld this decision in 1993. Hall again pursued post-conviction relief which the Florida Supreme Court denied, finding that the trial court did not err in finding him competent to proceed at the resentencing, but writing "while there is no doubt that [Hall] has serious mental difficulties, is probably somewhat retarded, and certainly has learning difficulties and a speech impediment, the Court finds that [Hall] was competent at the resentencing hearings." Hall v. State, 742 So.2d 225,229 (Fla. 1999).

In 2002, the United States Supreme Court decided Atkins, holding that imposition of the death penalty for defendants with mental retardation violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court, however, left it to the States to determine how to measure mental retardation. Following this decision, Hall filed a motion to vacate his sentence, arguing among other things, that the issue of his mental retardation could not be re-litigated because he had already been found mentally retarded at his mitigation resentencing hearing. The trial court denied this motion, and at the 2-day evidentiary hearing in December 2009, testimony was presented concerning Hall's behavior and functioning as a child, including his problems with reading, writing and caring for himself. One expert testified that Hall's IQ using the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale Revised was 73, and that a prior result given by another psychologist on the same test was 80. Another expert testified that Hall scored a 71 on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale Third Edition (WAIS-III). Hall also sought to introduce a report completed by a then-deceased expert reflecting a score of 69, which the court refused to admit into evidence. …

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