Supreme Court Debates Standard for Mentally Disabled on Death Row

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The U.S. Supreme Court appears likely to side with a Florida killer who is challenging the state's standard for deciding which inmates are mentally disabled and cannot be executed.

During oral arguments Monday, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is often a swing vote, suggested he thinks Freddie Lee Hall's appeal has merit as he grilled state lawyers about their rigid I.Q. cutoff, the Associated Press reported.

The high court ruled in 2002 that mentally disabled convicts cannot be put to death, but determining who fits that description is up to the states.

Florida's policy says any prisoner with an I.Q. higher than 70 is eligible for the death penalty — even though medical professionals say the test itself had a margin of error of five points.

"Your rule prevents us from getting a better understanding of whether the IQ score is accurate or not," Kennedy told the state lawyers.

Justice Antonin Scalia, however, said Hall's crimes — abducting and killing a pregnant woman and then murdering a sheriff's deputy — suggest his mental capacity is not below the threshold.

A ruling is expected by the end of June.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Image: Freddie Lee Hall
The Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in the case of Freddie Lee Hall about Florida's method of determining if an inmate is mentally disabled and exempt from the death penalty.AP

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