States should look beyond an inmate’s IQ scores to determine whether or not they should be eligible for the death penalty, the U.S. Supreme Court strongly suggested Monday. Using IQ scores as benchmarks in deciding whether an inmate can get the death penalty is being challenged by Florida death row inmate Freddie Lee Hall.
Hall, 68, was convicted of murdering a 21-year-old pregnant woman, Karol Hurst, in Florida in 1978. He was sentenced to death for the murder; Hall also is serving a 35-year sentence for killing a sheriff’s deputy.
In Hall vs. Florida, Hall is challenging Florida state law that says inmates that score above 70 on an IQ test are eligible for the death penalty. While Hall says he has scored higher than that threshold, there are other measures to determine that he is mentally disabled.
School records from the 1950s showed that Hall was “mentally retarded,” the term used at that time for mentally disabled, the Associated Press reported. Psychiatrists and psychologists are coming to Hall’s defense in his U.S. Supreme Court case, partly because of the school records. They also said there’s more ways to evaluate mental disability besides IQ tests.
Seth Waxman, Hall’s attorney, said those arguments form the basis of the Florida death row inmate’s lawsuit.
“True IQ is not the same as intellectual function, and IQ tests themselves, however perfect they may be, don’t perfectly capture a person’s intellectual function,” Waxman told MSNBC. Referring to mental disability, he said, “this is a clinical condition. It’s a condition that can only be appropriately diagnosed by professionals.”
It appears that the Supreme Court may be siding with Hall’s arguments, although the high court has not rendered a decision in the case.
In addition to the court’s liberal wing, Justice Anthony Kennedy signaled that he may rule in Hall’s favor, according to MSNBC. The court is trying to figure out if the 2002 Florida law on IQ tests is fair. The court might call for a margin of error on the tests. “Your rule prevents us from getting a better understanding of whether that IQ score is accurate or not,” Kennedy said while asking about prisoners who come close to the 70 IQ score threshold.