Newspaper article International New York Times

I.Q. Ruling May Spare Some Death Row Inmates

Newspaper article International New York Times

I.Q. Ruling May Spare Some Death Row Inmates

Article excerpt

Nine U.S. states will have to fall in line with the majority of others that use a more flexible standard to measure intelligence when sentencing inmates.

A United States Supreme Court ruling this week throwing out Florida's strict I.Q. cutoff in death penalty cases could increase the number of inmates exempt from execution because they are deemed mentally disabled, legal experts said.

Tuesday's decision, rejecting state policies that make it possible to sentence prisoners to death even if their I.Q. scores are one point above a numerical cutoff, will require nine states to come up with new standards for determining which inmates claiming mental disabilities can be sentenced to death.

But, death penalty experts said, only a small number of death row prisoners would qualify for new hearings. An estimated 10 to 20 inmates could be eligible because an inflexible I.Q. test cutoff -- typically 70 -- was used to decide whether they were too intellectually disabled to be executed, said John H. Blume, a law professor and death penalty expert at Cornell University. The death row inmates in this category would generally have I.Q.s of 71 to 75. Those inmates should now be able to ask for a new hearing that would take into consideration other evidence and a broader range of I.Q. tests.

By Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's count, there are nine states that, either by law or by court decision, were free to use similar I.Q. cutoffs to sentence someone. The nine are Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington. Other justices, based on differing readings of the states' laws, disagreed with that count.

These nine will now have to fall in line with the vast majority of states that use a more flexible standard to measure intelligence, taking into account that it is not an exact science and that evidence about a person's life and behavior should also be weighed as a factor. …

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