Supreme Court Says Florida's Death Row IQ Test Is Too Rigid

The ruling clears up questions left after the court's 2002 Atkins v. Virginia ruling that kept states from executing inmates with mental disabilities.

Supreme Court Says Florida's Death Row IQ Test Is Too Rigid
Flickr / Adam Fagen

The nation's highest court struck a blow against capital punishment Tuesday, calling Florida's IQ test too rigid a method to decide who lives and dies. (Via Flickr / Adam Fagen)

The 5-to-4 Supreme Court ruling means states will have to rely on more than just an IQ test to determine which inmates are intellectually disabled — and therefore can't be executed under a previous Supreme Court ruling: 2002's Atkins v. Virginia.

Tuesday, the justices looked to clear up the ambiguity left in that ruling. Justice Kennedy who voiced the majority's opinion said, "Intellectual disability is a condition, not a number" and that judges should view IQ results with "studied skepticism." (Via SCOTUSblog)

Tuesday's case, Hall v. Florida, centered on Freddie Lee Hall, a Florida inmate who, evidence suggested, had a lifelong mental disability. But he scored a 71 on an IQ test — just above Florida's cutoff point of 70. (Via WINK)

That meant Hall was headed for execution, until he challenged Florida's rigid policy. Health officials say an IQ test's margin for error can mean someone with a score as high as 75 could still have a mental disability.

"It's about deterrence. It's about punishment. But, the court is uncertain about whether you can deter someone who doesn't understand what's going on." (Via CNN)

The American Psychological Association praised the court for Tuesday's ruling, saying states should consider a margin of error in death row IQ testing.

Conservative Justice Samuel Alito wrote the dissenting opinion, calling the ruling a "sea change" from 2002's Atkins v. Virginia decision.