WASHINGTON, March 4 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court appeared poised to strike down laws in Florida and six other states providing a hard cutoff to qualify an inmate's mental fitness for the death penalty.
In arguments in Hall v. Florida before the court Monday, lawyers for Florida inmate Freddie Lee hall said their client -- who has lived half his life on death row for the rape and murder of a pregnant 21-year-old woman -- has been considered intellectually disabled since he was young, including by some judges, and should not qualify for execution.
But in Florida, the state law determines the cutoff for determining if an inmate is mentally fit to be execute is testing of an IQ of 70 or above. Hall's attorneys argue that the psychiatric community considers these tests to operate on a margin of error, and that Florida's law ought to take that margin of error into account.
Questioning from several justices indicated the court was likely to rule against Florida, and other states whose laws draw hard lines, with questioning that wondered why a hard cutoff should be used legally when the designers of the tests say there can be as much as a five-point error.
"Your rule prevents us from getting a better understanding of whether that IQ score is accurate or not,” said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who is likely to be a crucial vote.
“We have this whole line of cases that says when it comes to meting out the death penalty, we actually do individualized consideration, and we allow people to make their best case about why they’re not eligible for the death penalty,” added Justice Elena Kagan. “And essentially what your cutoff does is it stops that in its tracks.”
But Justice Antonin Scalia seemingly argued in favor of Florida's law by exposing his distrust in the expertise of the medical community as an arbiter for legality.
“This [American Psychiatric Association] is the same organization that once said that homosexuality was a mental disability and now says it’s perfectly normal,” Scalia said. “They change their minds.”
The Supreme Court in 2002 determined the execution of those deemed intellectually disabled, but left the decision to the states to determine how to distinguish the line of legal mental fitness.