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Supreme Court Agrees To Define Mental Retardation In Capitol Punishment Cases
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Freddie Hall and his attorney aren’t satisfied with what Florida’s Supreme court has to say about mental disability. Freddie has been convicted for the 1978 murder of Karol Hurst and was awarded the death penalty. Florida has set the bright-line cutoff of IQ at 70, and the U.S. Supreme Court legislated a decade ago that the mentally disabled cannot be executed, but Hall has tested on three separate tests between 71 to 80. His lawyer, Eric Pinkard, therefore, is seeking the U.S. Supreme Court to legislate that his client is in fact mentally retarded.

“The state of Florida cannot invent out of whole cloth a bright line cutoff for determining retardation, where no instrument exists that can measure IQ with that level of precision,” said Pinkard, of Capital Collateral Regional Counsel in Tampa, Fla., as reported by the National Law Journal. “While this Court granted the state’s leeway in crafting appropriate methods to enforce the constitutional restriction against execution of the mentally retarded, it did not grant the authority for a state to create out of thin air a definition of mental retardation which undoubtedly will fail to identify mentally retarded capital defendants.”


Whether Florida invented its solid and simple designation out of “thin air” sounds a contentious point. But critics of Pinkard’s approach say he is inviting the Supreme Court to micromanage state law. As Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Foundation on his blog, Crime and Consequences, has said, the Supreme Court’s decision in this matter promised that “states would have leeway in this area. Will the court now break this promise and micromanage the retardation determination procedure, repeating its huge mistake of 1980s?”

What Blume is asking, in the interest of prying some wiggle room to save his client’s life, is a definition at the federal level that might negate the clearly defined state legislation in Florida. “The thing that would bring the most clarity to this and would be beneficial to everyone would be if the court were to say: There is a generally understood clinical definition on what mental retardation is and states cannot adopt a definition that would exclude what any reasonable clinician would say is mental retardation.” He implies, of course, that reason is on his side, but some smooth and slippery attempts at undermining Florida Law are just as much a part of his approach.

The U.S. Supreme Court, for its part, has agreed to review the case.

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