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Supreme Court To Weigh IQ Cutoff For ‘Mental Retardation’


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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court agreed Monday to clarify the legal standard for intellectual disability in the case of a Florida death row inmate who is illiterate and was once judged to have severe impairments.

The justices in 2002 struck down imposing the death penalty for murderers who are “mentally retarded,” ruling this was cruel and unusual punishment. However, the court did not set a clear standard for what is now commonly known as intellectual disability and left the states some leeway in the matter.

Now, the court will decide whether states may rely entirely on a single IQ test.

Florida, like nine other states, has used a cutoff score of 70 on the test to measure for intellectual disability. Those who score 70 or above cannot be deemed to have intellectual disabilities, even if psychologists testify the inmate does. Those below that score still may go to prison but cannot be executed.

Freddie Hall, the Florida inmate, was sentenced to die for the kidnap and murder of a woman he abducted from a grocery store in 1978 despite having organic brain damage and other disabilities. Though the judge in the case agreed Hall had intellectual disability, he imposed a death sentence anyway, citing the severity of his crime and the planning that went into it.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2002 outlawing the death penalty for those with intellectual disability, Hall sought to be removed from death row. But a psychologist who tested him said Hall scored a 71 on the Weschler Adult Intelligence Test. As a result, under a new Florida law, he could no longer qualify having intellectual disability.

A divided Florida Supreme Court upheld his death sentence last year, but two dissenting justices objected to the use of a single cutoff score.

In appealing his case to the Supreme Court, a lawyer for Hall said his case illustrates the confusion in the law, because the defendant had become “unretarded” between the time of his original sentencing and now. He said the justices should intervene now to prevent the “prospect of executing a clearly mentally retarded human being.”

The court said it would hear the case of Hall vs. Florida during the winter and issue a decision by June.

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Comments (9 Responses)

  1. mo says:

    I wonder if they have every heard of margin of error when they are looking at the cut off of 70.

  2. Eugene Bolton says:

    There HAS to be a single standard, otherwise the assessment of ID is merely subjective.

  3. kathy callahan says:

    Even the state would want adaptive score or other scores to determine an intellectual disability!

  4. Barbara Bilyeu says:

    OMG I am not too sure I want this Supreme Court making any decisions – certainly not about intellectual disabilities.66525268 3

  5. vmgillen says:

    There is no single, governing IQ (some may be master of social interactions and have de minimus spatial concepts, e.g.) and there is certainly no perfect IQ test. While I understand the need to draw some kind of line in the sand, the legal system must also recognize the problems, and allow sentencing leeway, as opposed to mandatory provisions. I’d say that’s the problem, not the specific IQ score…

  6. soricobob says:

    Boy, that should be a real “meeting of the minds”.

  7. Whitney says:

    I actually think my states representatives and certain senator have IQ problems. It is time to look for national standard saying 1. Person is one point above cut off is foolish? How we look at the person can get a job than average intelligent American can get?

  8. F. Dang says:

    To diagnose a person with having an Intellectual Disability, mental retardation, based solely on an IQ score, 70, is a very simplistic approach. First of all there is a margin of error when giving an IQ test. A person may score in the 60’s in June and given the same test a month later they may score in the 70’s. This doesn’t mean that the person no longer has an Intellectual Disability, that some how during that month’s time that person became smarter. The change could be attributed to many variables including the test situation. The person could have been very tired during the first testing or the person did not like the evaluator. There are other reasons why a person may have scored in the 60’s or 70’s. In determining a person’s IQ, with a psychological test, there are two scores used to calculate the Full Scale IQ or the result of the testing, the person’s IQ. The scales are the Performance and Verbal IQ scales. the Verbal scales are language dependent and the Performance scales are non-language dependent. If a person who is “average” in intelligence is tested the scores on the Performance and Language scales will be similar to their Full Scale IQ score. If the person has a learning disability the scores of either the Performance or Verbal scales will be significantly different, one scale being lower than the other, affecting their Full Scale score, which would be lower. Another thing to look at is the person’s ability to do things or understand things. When compared to other people his/her age are they able do things at the same level or are they noticeably unable to. In school are they learning at the same rate as their classmates. Individuals with Intellectual disabilities will start showing in difficulties keeping up with their classmates around the third or fourth grade as more demands are placed before them. When determining if someone has the diagnosis of Intellectual Disability the evaluator has to see the whole picture of the individual not just numbers.

  9. Jeana Campolo says:

    Is prison really the right place for people with developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities, mental retardation or however you want to refer to it. I live in Ohio. I work in a state operated Developmental Center. I communicate often with correction officers in state prisons, who tell me they have entire pods of DD people in their custody. Is our country deinstitutionalizing to the point of putting these people at risk for spending the rest of their lives in prisons or worse? Wake up America, sometimes the best and safest place for people with this sort of disability is an institution.

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