An attempt to provide understandable and up-to-date information regarding intelligence testing, intelligence theories, personal competence, adaptive behavior and intellectual disability (mental retardation) as they relate to death penalty (capital punishment) issues. A particular focus will be on psychological measurement, statistical and psychometric issues.
Oct. 24 — Death-row inmates in Florida and
Kentucky whose near-normal IQ scores blocked them from introducing any
evidence that they are too intellectually disabled to be executed must
be given a fresh chance to present their claims,
a divided Florida Supreme Court and a unanimous Kentucky Supreme Court
ruled Oct. 20 (Walls v. State,
2016 BL 350410, Fla., No. SC15-1449, 10/20/16 and White v. Commonwealth, Ky., No. 2013-SC-000791-MR, 10/20/16). The decisions throw open the door for other
death-row inmates who were barred from introducing such evidence just
because their IQ scores were above a bright-line threshold.
Hall Rule Breaks New Ground
In both cases, the courts ruled that
Hall v. Florida,
82 U.S.L.W. 4373,
2014 BL 145335 (U.S. May 27, 2014), which declared
unconstitutional Florida's categorical bar against intellectual
disablility evidence in capital cases for any convicted defendant whose
IQ score is above 70, must be applied retroactively.
The rule announced in Hall is not simply a
different interpretation of a rule of criminal procedure, it is a
substantive restriction on the states’ power to execute someone, the
Kentucky Supreme Court said in an opinion by Justice
Bill Cunningham. “We are dealing here with a U.S. Supreme
Court directive that not only proscribes intellectually disabled people
from being put to death, but defines the manner in which the mental
deficiencies of offenders must be evaluated,” Cunningham
wrote. Kentucky Justice Samuel T. Wright III agreed
that Karu Gene White should get a new hearing but concurred in separate
opinion that addresses waiver issues.
The Florida Supreme Court reached the same conclusion about retroactivity in its 5-2 per curiam ruling. “We find that Hall warrants retroactive
application as a development of fundamental significance that places
beyond the State of Florida the power to impose a certain sentence—the
sentence of death for individuals within a broader
range of IQ scores than before,” it said. Justice James E. C. Perry concurred in the
result only and Barbara J. Pariente filed a separate concurrence arguing
that Frank A. Walls was entitled to a new hearing to avoid “manifest
injustice.” Justice Charles T. Canady, joined by Justice
Ricky L. Polston, argued in dissent against making Hall retroactive,
noting that it will cause “a major disruption to the application of the
The Florida Attorney General's Office and the Kentucky Attorney General's Office represented their respective states.
The Department of Public Advocacy represented White. The Office of the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel represented Walls.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lance J. Rogers in Washington at
To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at