Supreme Court to Weigh in on State Determination of Mental Disability

The Supreme Court of the United States recently issued a list of the cases that it will hear in the upcoming term. Among the cases that it will hear are two death penalty cases coming out of Texas. Not only does it look like Texas is about to take a beating by the Supreme Court, but there is also the potential for these cases to drastically change the landscape for death penalty convictions and appeals.

The first of these cases, Moore v. Texas, has to do with the execution of the intellectually disabled, and how states can go about making the determination that they are below the acceptable standard for execution.

Why the Mentally Disabled Cannot Be Executed

In the past, the Supreme Court has determined that it violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment” to execute people if they cannot understand why they are being punished. They noted a national consensus among the states that people with IQs of under 70 had been deemed mentally incompetent to be executed. However, the Court left it up to the states to determine how it would be determined if someone had an intellectual disability.

Moore v. Texas

Back in 1980, Bobby Moore was involved in a grocery store robbery in Texas. He admitted to shooting and killing the clerk with a shotgun, and was sentenced to death by a jury. Over the course of the trial and his subsequent appeals, the IQ tests he had taken throughout his life were admitted into evidence. They ranged from the high 50s into the high 70s, straddling the magic number that the Supreme Court had mentioned as being the cut-off point for the Eighth Amendment.

Because states were still allowed to determine who was intellectually disabled, however, the Texas legislature had decided to use the standards given in the ninth edition of manual by the American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR). This manual, however, was published in 1992, and the definition that it provides for intellectually disabled – the one that courts in Texas are required to apply to criminal defendants – has become outdated. Nevertheless, the Texas legislature has not updated the law, so the state’s courts have had to prohibit the use of the AAMR’s newer definition.

Now, the Supreme Court will review whether it is permissible for courts to prohibit the use of modern medical standards in favor of those that have become obsolete.

The Federal Criminal Law Center

Cases like these that reach the Supreme Court of the United States can set precedent that we can use to help represent our clients in a broad range of criminal charges, from federal drug and arson crimes to embezzlement and white collar offenses.

Our attorneys focus on federal crimes and federal charges in and around the Atlanta, Georgia area. If you or someone you know are facing federal charges in this part of the country, contact the Federal Criminal Law Center online.