On Monday, the Supreme Court announced it will oversee a Florida death row case involving a mentally challenged man who was convicted of killing a pregnant woman in 1978. The justices will look to see how judges in the state determined an inmate’s mental state, and how that figures in calling for execution.
Eleven years ago, the High Court struck down the execution of the “mentally retarded” (the old legal term) in the 2002 ruling for the Atkins v. Virginia case, essentially leaving it up to states to measure a person’s mental capacity relating to their eligibility for execution. Prior to Atkins v. Virginia, the Florida Supreme Court found that Freddie Lee Hall was mentally challenged, but sentenced him to death anyway.
Florida law currently states that individuals who test higher than 70 on intelligence quotient (IQ) tests cannot be considered mentally disabled, even if evidence suggests otherwise. Hall has tested between the 71 and 80 range on three occasions.
Hall challenged his death row conviction after the Atkins decision, based on the court’s findings that he had learning disabilities in 1999. Hall’s lawyers contend that he has already been found mentally disabled and thus his execution should be stayed. Two justices recognized the fine line of the test scores, but the Florida Supreme Court still found that Hall’s scores by law qualify him fit for death row last year.
Florida Supreme Court Justice James E. C. Perry, arguing in favor of Hall not being executed based on the court’s own determination, wrote in a court opinion, “Hall is a poster child for mental retardation claims because the record here clearly demonstrates that Hall is mentally retarded.”
Florida is one of nine states that administer the death penalty with the IQ limit law in place. The other states are Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington.
The case, Hall v. Florida, 12-10882, is slated to be argued next year.