U.S. News


Supreme Court Hears Debate On Executing Mentally Disabled

The Supreme Court banned the execution of inmates with mental disabilities in 2002 but allowed states to determine standards for mental disabilities.
Posted at 2:20 PM, Mar 02, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments this week over how much leeway states have in determining which inmates are fit for the death penalty.

The case in question involves Freddie Lee Hall, a Florida death row inmate convicted of murder, but is raising questions about the state's policy on executing people with mental disabilities. (Via USA Today)

In 2002, the Supreme Court barred states from using the death penalty on the mentally disabled, but allowed the states to determine their own standards for mental disability. (Via CNN)

Florida does not execute inmates who score below 70 on an IQ test. The state says, although he has scored as low as 60, most of Hall's scores have come in the low 70s. So, despite the opinions of psychologists who have examined Hall and deemed him mentally disabled, Florida plans to move ahead with his execution.

Florida is one of four states that use a strict IQ standard without allowing for a margin of error. Writing for The Atlantic, Andrew Cohen says, "These states aren't just outliers in constitutional law—they are outliers in science and medicine, too" for ignoring the opinions of experts and psychologists.

The overall number of executions nationwide each year has steadily dropped in recent years. Last year there were 39. Thirty-two states still use the death penalty. Between 1984 and 2001, states executed 44 people with mental disabilities. (Via Wikimedia Commons / California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

The U.S. is one of the last few Western nations with the death penalty. Europe, Russia, Canada and Mexico have all banned prisoner executions.