Friday, November 26, 2010

Atkins court decisions: Three in November--Henderson (TX), Kilgore (FL), Hardy (LA)

Three new Atkins decisions in November. Thanks to Kevin Foley (and a few others) for sending me these cases and comments/analysis that I've incorporated below.

Henderson v Thaler (TX, 2010). The Federal Fifth Circuit decided the latest round regarding James Lee Henderson. Previously, the Fifth Circuit remanded the case back to the district court (federal habeas court) to determine if (1) Henderson's claim was time barred, and if so, should it be allowed under the concept of equitable tolling; and (2) if tolled, did Atkins bar Henderson's death sentence because he is MR/ID. As related by this decision, the district concluded that equitable tolling did not apply, and thus it did not address the Atkins claim. The recent Holland v. Florida SCOTUS case, which sets forth a standard for equitable tolling, seems relevant to Henderson. Since the district court did not have the benefit of Holland at the time it denied Henderson's case, the Fifth Circuit remanded the case back to the district court to apply the Holland standard. If the district court finds equitable tolling applies, it will then examine the Atkins claim. A strong dissent argued that the Atkins claim should be addressed either way.

The dissent argued "If we were to condone the barring of Henderson's Atkins claim by the AEDPA's [habeas] statute of limitations, without ever affording him a federal opportunity to demonstrate his intellectual disability, then allowing the State to execute him would not only be 'fundamentally unjust'; it would be unconstitutional per se."

Kilgore v McNeil (FL, 2010). McNeil's claim was denied, but the decision touches on a number of interesting issues. First, the Florida court decided that in some instances there can be "outlier" test scores that should essentially be disregarded. Of course, the treatment of outlier scores has the potential downside for abuse. Second, the Florida court acknowledged that scores can be affected by the practice effect, although its application of the concept was a bit sloppy. Finally, Florida continues to not recognize the concept of SEM...a point that I find hard to accept (click here for prior comments on this issue) given the scientific and professional consensus regarding the importance of SEM in interpreting IQ test scores.

Hardy v US (LA, 2010). The Hardy decision is potentially very important given the acceptance of a correction for norm obsolesce (aka., Flynn Effect). The Flynn Effect discussion is worth the read alone as the research and professional literature discussed is quite current. This reminds me that I need to find time to update the Flynn Effect on-line archive project.

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