For Freddie Lee Hall, a difference of one IQ point could be the difference between life and death.
Hall, 68, has been on the US state of Florida’s death row for 35 years for his involvement in the 1978 murder and sexual assault of a pregnant woman and the related murder of a deputy sheriff. Despite finding that Hall had been “mentally retarded” his entire life, a state trial court sentenced him to death by lethal injection.
Today, the US Supreme Court will hold oral arguments in Hall v. Florida to resolve whether Hall’s death sentence violates the constitutional ban on executing people with intellectual disabilities (the preferred term today).
In 2002, in Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court held that executing people with intellectual disabilities constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment,” prohibited under the US Constitution. The justices provided general guidance for defining intellectual disability but ultimately left implementation to the states, an omission that now lies at the heart of today’s arguments.
In the aftermath of the Atkins decision, Hall appealed his death sentence, but Florida’s supreme court denied his appeal. The state’s requirements for intellectual disability set a “bright line” cutoff IQ score of 70 or below. Hall, having presented IQ scores between 71 and 80, missed the cutoff by a single point.
The Supreme Court will need to decide whether this bright line cutoff violates Atkins. (source)
I wonder: is it that difficult to fake an IQ test – or several tests – and make yourself appear less intelligent than you are? Just fail to answer a few questions. Of course, even if you can’t fake an IQ test the Atkins system remains absurd. As a general rule, it’s OK to account for diminished criminal responsibility of the intellectually disabled, but in the case of the death penalty the difference between diminished and non-diminished is life and death. Criminal justice shouldn’t be about life and death. There’s no good reason for the death penalty, for anyone.