Since the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited the execution of persons with intellectual disability (Atkins v. Virginia, 2002), it has been up to the states to enforce this constitutional protection. But when diagnosing intellectual disability for death penalty cases, shouldn't the standard error or measurement (SEM) inherent in all IQ tests be considered?
Florida doesn't think so. Despite a universal consensus among professional organizations that an IQ test is only one part of diagnosing intellectual disability, and that the SEM present in all IQ tests should be taken into account, the Sunshine State still imposes a rigid IQ score cutoff of 70 in determining intellectual disability in capital cases. That means a person whose obtained IQ test score is 71 can be executed even if he has consistently been diagnosed as having intellectual disability and regardless of how severe his limitations in adaptive functioning may be.
SCOTUS will address the question at the beginning of March in Hall v. Florida. An opinion piece by Atkins expert John Blume, Professor of Law at Cornell University, argues that Floridaâs standard is inconsistent with Atkins v. Virginia and the Constitution:
This is unconscionable. Under accepted clinical standards, Mr. Hall is a person with intellectual disability. His scores on reliable, individualized IQ tests for the most part cluster around 69-74, a range that both the AAIDD and the APA recognize as consistent with intellectual disability. Hall was first determined to be intellectually disabled in elementary school, and he has been diagnosed with intellectual disability by numerous psychiatrists and psychologists who have examined him over the years and he was even found by a Florida state judge to be a person with an intellectual disability prior to Atkins. Stripped down to its essence, the issue in Hall v. Florida, is whether—despite the clear clinical consensus that Hall falls within the class of persons guaranteed exemption from capital punishment by the Supreme Court of the United States—Florida can utilize a strict (and arbitrary) 70 IQ cutoff to deny what is clinically obvious; Hall is intellectually disabled.Will the Supreme Court affirm what doctors, scientists, and clinicians have agreed upon for years? If the Court truly meant what it ruled in Atkins, one would hope; otherwise, Mr. Hall and others in Florida with intellectual disability may be executed.