Supreme Court to review execution of mentally disabled inmates
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court will take up a Florida case over how judges should determine if a death row inmate is mentally disabled, and thus ineligible for execution.
The justices said Monday they will review a Florida Supreme Court ruling that upheld the death sentence for a man who scored just above the state’s cutoff for mental disability as measured by IQ tests.
Freddie Lee Hall was sentenced to death for killing Karol Hurst, a 21-year-old, pregnant woman who was abducted leaving a grocery store in 1978.
Florida law prohibits anyone with an IQ of 70 or higher from being classified as mentally disabled, regardless of other evidence to the contrary. Hall’s scores on three IQ tests ranged from 71 to 80.
In 2002, the Supreme Court banned the execution of mentally disabled inmates. But the 6-3 decision in Atkins v. Virginia essentially left it to the states to determine how to measure mental disability.
Florida is one of nine death penalty states with a strict IQ limit, said Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente. The others are: Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington.
Pariente voted with the majority to uphold Hall’s sentence, but noted there is no national consensus on how to determine mental disability.
Hall’s case is legally complicated. In 1989, the Florida Supreme Court threw out Hall’s original death penalty and ordered a new sentencing hearing. A judge then resentenced Hall to death, but declared he was mentally disabled. That took place before the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling and before Florida passed a law setting the IQ limit.
When Hall later filed another appeal, the same judge ruled he was not mentally disabled because his scores on IQ tests topped 70.
The case will be argued early next year.
The case is Hall v. Florida, 12-10882.
By Mark Sherman