Supreme Court reverses Texas ruling on death row inmate

By Ed Adamczyk Contact the Author   |  March 28, 2017 at 12:07 PM
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March 28 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Texas used incorrect methods of determining if an intellectually disabled death row inmate could be executed.

The case of Bobby James Moore, 57, convicted in 1980 of murder during a botched robbery attempt, will be returned to an appeals court. The ruling invalidates Texas' current method of determining if an inmate facing the death sentence is intellectually disabled.

In previous rulings, the Supreme Court determined it is unconstitutional to execute inmates with intellectual disabilities. In 2014 a Texas court used current medical methods to determine that Moore was not eligible for execution; the Texas Court of Appeals overruled the decision, saying the lower court did not use approved Texas standards. Those standards, using a medical definition from 1992, determined that Moore does not have the disability and thus is eligible for execution.

Moore has been on death row in Texas for 36 years, his appeals marked by conflicting definitions of whether or not he is intellectually disabled.

In a 5-3 decision written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court said states are given leeway to determine intellectual competence, but Texas used outdated standards.

"Texas cannot satisfactorily explain why it applies current medical standards for diagnosing intellectual disability in other contexts, yet clings to superseded standards when an individual's life is at stake," Ginsburg wrote.

Ginsburg was joined by justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan in the decision. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. Justice Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented.

Roberts, in a dissent, wrote that "Clinicians, not judges, should determine clinical standards; and judges, not clinicians, should determine the content of the Eighth Amendment," which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

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