Supreme Court Rules on Measuring Intellectual Incapacity In Execution Cases

In an interesting 5-4 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the States cannot use a fixed IQ score as the measure of incapacity to be put to death.  In Hall v. Florida, the Court ruled that if the individual claiming intellectual incapacity has an IQ score that falls somewhere between 70 and 75, then that individual’s lawyers must be allowed to offer additional clinical evidence of intellectual deficit, including, most importantly, the inability to learn basic skills and adapt how to react to changing circumstances.   The Court struck down Florida’s approach that would permit the execution of any convicted individual whose IQ tested anywhere above 70.

In Hall, Freddie Lee Hall was sentenced to die for the 1978 murder of a pregnant housewife. Freddie Lee Hall, and his accomplice, Mark Ruffin, kidnaped, beat, raped, and murdered Karol Hurst, a pregnant, 21-year-old newlywed. Afterward, Hall and Ruffin drove to a convenience store they planned to rob. In the parking lot of the store, they killed Lonnie Coburn, a sheriff’s deputy who attempted to apprehend them. Hall had been given IQ tests with a score of 71, which Florida had used as making him eligible to be executed, because of the 70 threshold requirement.

Florida’s threshold requirement, as interpreted by the Florida Supreme Court, that defendants show an IQ test score of 70 or below before being permitted to submit additional intellectual disability evidence is unconstitutional because it creates an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disabilities will be executed. The ruling did not rule out the States’ use of IQ tests as part of the analysis of whether an individual had sufficient intellectual functioning to qualify for the death sentence after being convicted for murder.  The Court, however, stressed that using IQ scores must always factor the “inherent” imprecision of such scores. For the full decision, SEE HERE.

New Blood Test May Help Diagnose Intellectual Disability And Developmental Delays

The U.S.  Food and Drug Administration has recently approved a new test that may help diagnose intellectual disabilities and developmental delays in children.  The new test, CytoScan Dx Assay, can detect chromosomal variations that may be responsible for a child’s developmental delay or intellectual disability. Based on a blood sample, the test can analyze the entire genome at one time and detect large and small chromosomal changes.

According to the National Institutes of Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics, two to three percent of children in the United States have some form of intellectual disability. Many intellectual and developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome and DiGeorge syndrome, are associated with chromosomal variations.

The goal of the test is to assist in determining possible causes of a child’s developmental delay or intellectual disability, allowing health care providers and parents to develop and appropriate care plan.