Tuesday, March 4, 2014


The Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in Hall v. Florida.  I was not impressed.  This is a follow up case to Atkins v. Maryland, a 2002 case in which the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded.  In Hall v. Florida Hall's lowest tested IQ was 71 which is above the IQ 70 cutoff for mental retardation.  So Hall was denied the exemption provided by Atkins v. Maryland.  But Hall argues IQ tests have a margin of error so even though his tested IQ was 71 his true IQ could be at or below the 70 cutoff.  This argument would have some force if the state was required to prove Hall is not retarded.  But since it was undisputed at oral argument that the burden of proof is on Hall to prove that he is mentally retarded his objection seems basically frivolous.  A tested IQ of 71 indicates it is more likely than not his true IQ is 71 or higher which is above the cutoff so it is more likely than not that he is not retarded.  Whereas he had the burden of showing at a minimum that it is more likely than not that he is retarded.  Which he has not done even if he has shown there is a substantial chance that he is retarded.  But while this seems perfectly clear to me the Supreme Court justices and advocates seemed rather muddled and confused about this point.  So it is possible, perhaps likely, that they will rule for Hall out of distaste for the death penalty and justify their decision with a confused and illogical opinion.

1 comment:

  1. How does a guy with that low of an IQ prove that he is actually below the line?(beyond a reasonable doubt?) It all depends on who you have for a lawyer (and how rich the defendants parents are) and how well the lawyer presents the case. It could be argued either way depending on the outcome you want. Judges would tend toward leniency as you pointed out because they don't want to rule in a death penalty case.