Supreme Court To Revisit Ban On Executing Mentally Disabled

The Court is expected to clarify a 2002 ruling that exempts the mentally retarded from death penalty

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The Supreme Court will consider Monday whether a mentally retarded Florida man condemned to death row for murdering a 21-year-old pregnant woman should face the death penalty, revisiting a court ruling that prohibits the execution of mentally retarded people.

Freddie Lee Hall has been on death row for over three decades and has yet to face execution after a 1991 death re-sentencing specified he was mentally retarded, reports USA Today. He’s been in legal limbo since a 2002 Supreme Court ruling stated people with mental disabilities cannot be executed.

But the Court’s 2002 ruling didn’t define precisely what mental retardation is, and while Florida law sets a maximum IQ of 70, Hall has tested between 60 and 80 on IQ tests. In revisiting the 2002 ruling through Hall’s case, the highest court in the land is expected to clarify its definition of mental retardation.

Florida authorities claim that Hall should not be considered mentally retarded as he has repeatedly scored in the low 70s on IQ tests. Others cite diagnoses by six professionals who say Hall is mentally retarded, and argue there must be a 5-point margin of error.

“If the bar against executing the mentally retarded is to mean anything, Freddie Lee Hall cannot be executed,” said Judge James Perry. Hall, he said, “is a poster child for mental retardation claims.”

Forty-four people with mental retardation were executed from 1984 to 2001. Since the Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling, several hundred prisoners on death row have filed mental retardation claims, or about 7% of all cases. Twenty-eight percent of those sentences, or slightly more than 100, have been reduced as a result of the 2002 ruling.

[USA Today]