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Inmate's IQ scores: Mentally disabled Fla. inmate appeals execution over low IQ

Should an inmate’s IQ score determine whether or not capital punishment be meted out? Can a mentally disabled criminal on death row plead protection from execution because of being “intellectually incapacitated?”

 AFP
AFPThis undated photo made available by the Florida Department of Corrections shows inmate Freddie Lee Hall, whose case has touched off a Supreme Court debate on the execution of those who are mentally disabled.

According to a report from the AFP, as carried by Yahoo! News on Monday, that’s the question that our nation’s highest court will be considering – based on the case of Florida death row inmate Freddie Lee Hall, who has scored above a 70 on most of the intelligence quotients test he has taken since the late 60s, but who still says he is mentally disabled.

An intellectual disability, or general learning disability, has historically been defined as an intelligence quotient score under 70. Hall has an IQ of 71.

The Supreme Court has always left it up to each individual state to determine the standards as to who may be mentally disabled as it relates to legal precedents.

A state judge who oversaw an earlier appeal concluded that Hall “had been mentally retarded his entire life.” Psychiatrists and other medical professionals agree that Hall meets the definition of a person who has an intellectual disability.

Now the Supreme Court must decide if his mental deficiency exempts Hall from being put to death for his crimes, setting a touchstone for all such cases to come.

Hall killed 21-year-old Karol Hurst, a pregnant woman from Leesburg, Fla. in 1978. Hall also has been convicted of killing a sheriff's deputy and has been imprisoned for the past 35 years.

Per the AFP report:

Part of his appeal rests on the fact that he falls within a five-percent margin of error cited by psychiatrists and experts when assessing IQ scores, and that an IQ test alone is not enough to judge whether someone is "mentally retarded" or not.

Seth Waxman, a lawyer for Hall, said the court could not ignore that margin of error, and thus "makes the imposition of the death penalty under that condition unconstitutional."

Hall's guilt is not an issue, but psychiatrists and psychologists who are supporting Hall say his IQ test alone, and any such test, is insufficient as a diagnosis when it comes to deciding whether someone should be executed under state law.