The Arc Responds to Denial of Clemency for Warren Hill

Washington, DC – This morning, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles voted to deny clemency in the case of Warren Hill, a man who has an intellectual disability (ID). Mr. Hill’s diagnosis of intellectual disability allows for protections found within the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Atkins v. Virginia and Hall v. Florida. There is a stay motion and a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court. They can still intervene and stay the execution, sparing Mr. Hill’s life.

“A gross miscarriage of justice has been committed in Georgia today. It is extremely disappointing that the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles failed to listen to pleas from The Arc, other organizations and experts to commute Mr. Hill’s sentence to life in prison without possibility of parole.  The facts in this case are clear – and the state’s action clearly goes against the U.S. Supreme Court’s previous decisions in Atkins v. Virginia and Hall v. Florida. We hope that the Supreme Court will intervene and stay the execution, they are the last and only chance for justice in this case,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Warren Lee Hill, was found by a state court judge to have an IQ of approximately 70 and to meet the criteria for intellectual disability overall by a preponderance of the evidence. Georgia’s “beyond a reasonable doubt” legal standard for proving intellectual disability claims prevents Mr. Hill from being protected by Georgia and federal law prohibiting the execution of people with intellectual disability.

The Arc has been involved in this case for years. Nationally The Arc has participated in an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court and written multiple letters urging clemency on behalf of Mr. Hill.

In its 2002 Atkins decision, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the special risk of wrongful execution faced by persons with intellectual disability (formerly referred to as “mental retardation”) and banned the execution of persons with intellectual disability as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. In its more recent 2014 Hall decision, the U.S. Supreme Court again reinforced its earlier decision that people with intellectual disabilities not be executed, requiring that consideration of evidence beyond IQ tests be taken into account when determining intellectual disability.

Statement from Brian Kammer, Attorney for Warren Hill

“Today Georgia set an execution date for a man who has had intellectual disability since childhood, and whose execution would be unconstitutional. Twice the lower court found Warren Hill to have intellectual disability by the preponderance of the evidence, a widely-used and appropriate standard. All of the states’ experts have agreed, and in fact no expert who has ever examined Mr. Hill disputes that he has intellectual disability. Many prominent leaders in the field of intellectual disability agree that Mr. Hill should not face execution because he is a person with lifelong intellectual disability. The only reason that he is now at risk of execution is that Georgia’s standard – requiring capital defendants to prove they have intellectual disability ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ – is not science-based and inherently denies people like Mr. Hill from receiving the protection which the U.S. Supreme Court has ordered. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court wrote in Hall v. Florida, ‘Persons facing that most severe sanction must have a fair opportunity to show that the Constitution prohibits their execution.’  Georgia’s standard does not allow that ‘fair opportunity.’ It is unfathomable that Georgia is planning the execution of a man with intellectual disability, who is constitutionally protected from execution.”

-Brian Kammer, attorney for Warren Hill

-January 16, 2015

The execution order can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/1AoNSaR

The Arc Calls on Governor McAuliffe to Grant a Conditional Pardon for Neli Latson Immediately

Stafford, VA – Today was another day in court for Neli Latson, a young man with autism who has spent a significant amount of time in solitary confinement. His case has become the symbol for dysfunction in our national justice system for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).  As Latson entered a guilty plea today to charges of assault, The Arc is calling on Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who now has the legal authority to take action, to promptly grant a conditional pardon so that Latson can be transferred from the criminal justice system to the developmental disability system, where he will receive the services he needs.

“Mr. Latson is caught in a recurring cycle of prosecution and punishment due to factors related to his disabilities. He is not a criminal. He is a person with autism and intellectual disability whose behaviors can be aggressive, often in an attempt to communicate. Prison is not where Mr. Latson belongs,” wrote Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, to Governor McAuliffe in early December requesting a conditional pardon.

Latson, who is 22, has been incarcerated since August 2013 as a result of behavior connected to his disability.  He has been held in solitary confinement for most of that time and is presently at a Virginia state prison.  His tragic situation is the result of events surrounding his initial detention which occurred while waiting for the public library to open, and from subsequent mental health crises resulting from his confinement.  A conditional pardon would allow Latson to be moved immediately to a facility in Florida that will provide the support necessary to help him move on from these events.

Advocates from The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD) and The Arc of Virginia have been involved in this case for months, advocating alongside Latson’s legal team.  NCCJD is operated by The Arc and is the first national effort of its kind to bring together both victim and suspect/offender issues involving people with I/DD under one roof.  NCCJD is a national clearinghouse for research, information, evaluation, training and technical assistance for criminal justice and disability professionals and other advocates that will build their capacity to better identify and meet the needs of people with I/DD, whose disability often goes unrecognized, and who are overrepresented in the nation’s criminal justice system.  Currently, NCCJD is developing training for law enforcement, victim service providers and legal professionals that will support police departments, prosecutor’s offices, and other professionals in the criminal justice system to effectively and fairly administer justice for people with disabilities.

Justice Can Seem Insurmountable – New Pathways to Justice™ Introduction Video Aims to Help People with I/DD Navigate Daunting System

Too many times people with disabilities come into contact with the criminal justice system and the outcome is anything but just.”

The opening words of a new video created by The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD), the Pathways to Justice Introduction Video, powerfully highlight the broad lack of justice for people with disabilities within America’s criminal justice system. This four and a half minute video introduces the Pathways to Justice Model, and integral part of the Pathways to Justice training program being piloted by five chapters of The Arc. The Pathways to Justice Training Curriculum helps build the capacity of the criminal justice system to effectively identify, serve, and protect people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), many of whom have “mild” disabilities that often go unnoticed among criminal justice professionals without appropriate training. The video points out why communities should seek additional training for criminal justice professionals.

Navigating the criminal justice system, as a suspect, offender, witness, or victim, is daunting for anyone. For people with I/DD and their families, there can be insurmountable obstacles to obtaining justice. The new Pathways to Justice Introduction Video highlights specific cracks in the criminal justice system through the telling of real life stories by people with disabilities and by their family members.

Take James’ story. James Meadours is a powerful self-advocate with intellectual disabilities who experienced multiple victimizations throughout his life—without anyone every knowing. As an adult, James was raped in his own apartment. He found the courage to reach out for help, leading to the successful prosecution of his attacker and the revelation that there had been multiple victimizations throughout James’ life. While this story ended positively with the attacker held accountable for the crime and James empowering others with his self-advocacy, society overall must do a better job creating safer lives in the community for people with disabilities. Research supports the fact that multiple victimizations are quite common among people with disabilities—this is unacceptable. James did not have to suffer in silence alone for so many years, we as a society can do better.

Using the Pathways to Justice Model, NCCJD aims to build collaborative relationships within the criminal justice and disability professions, creating solutions to identify, prevent, and stop injustices faced by people with disabilities. The Pathways to Justice Introduction Video debuted at The Arc’s National Convention in New Orleans with positive reviews, and was played at The Arc of North Carolina’s State Convention the following week. Chapters have already begun requesting copies to take to local law enforcement and criminal justice professionals as a way to effectively demonstrate the need for quality training on disability issues.

NCCJD wants you to help bridge gaps in your community’s criminal justice system. If we’re truly going to stop injustice in our nation’s criminal justice system against people with disabilities, we must take action. Get involved by:

  • Sharing the video: Use the conversation guide and the Pathways to Justice Model to begin a collaborative effort in your community. Let others in your state or community know about NCCJD as a reliable and trusted resource funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, and use the video to educate the criminal justice community about the need for effective training on disability issues.
  • Using NCCJD as a resource: NCCJD provides technical assistance and information & referral regarding a broad range of criminal justice issues. If you have a question involving the criminal justice system and someone with a disability use our online form.
  • Putting your state’s resources on the map: If there is a great resource in your area that we should know about, tell us! Visit the state map site to learn more: http://www.thearc.org/NCCJD/resources/by-state

While obtaining justice seems insurmountable at times, the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability is committed to working with parents, professionals, self-advocates, and other advocates to create pathways to justice for all people with disabilities.

The Arc Raises Questions in Case of Shocking Abuse and Neglect against Teenager in Anderson, Indiana

Indianapolis, IN – Fifteen years old and weighing less than 40 pounds.  Covered in feces and locked in a room, alone and for an unknown amount of time, by her grandfather.  The police reports released in Anderson, Indiana about the shocking abuse against a teenager with a disability raise significant questions about how this situation could go unnoticed in the community and unmonitored by a litany of state agencies which allowed this child to fall off the radar.

It has been reported the girl was removed from school to be home schooled – Indiana law does not require ongoing involvement from public schools when a family removes a child to be home schooled. Indiana’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS) had contact with the family at one time, but the case was closed.  The police have learned that the child lost access to Medicaid which helped cover nutritional supplements, but as there is no requirement for Medicaid case workers to follow up in such cases, this loss of coverage went unnoticed.

“This is a tragic situation that should never have happened.  The question now is, what can we as a community of advocates, state agencies, and individuals do to learn what went so terribly wrong for this young girl, and how can we all seek and act on ways to keep others safe and free from harm,” said John Dickerson, Executive Director of The Arc of Indiana.

“This is a shameful case of abuse and neglect that should force the system and society to think about how this young girl was hidden in plain sight, starving and without access to medical care, and to force action to prevent something like this from ever happening again.  People with disabilities are far too often victimized, without regard for their basic human rights.  And now this teenager is fighting for her life,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD) is operated by The Arc and is the first national effort of its kind to bring together both victim and suspect/offender issues involving people with I/DD under one roof.  NCCJD is a national clearinghouse for research, information, evaluation, training and technical assistance for criminal justice and disability professionals and other advocates that will build their capacity to better identify and meet the needs of people with I/DD, whose disability often goes unrecognized, and who are overrepresented in the nation’s criminal justice system.  Currently, NCCJD is developing training for law enforcement, victim service providers and legal professionals that will support police departments, prosecutor’s offices, and other professionals in the criminal justice system to effectively and fairly administer justice for people with disabilities.

NCCJD is a much needed resource for the Anderson, Indiana police force and local prosecutors as they pursue this case and will continue to be a resource for many other communities facing similar tragedies. Persons with disabilities are nearly three times more likely to be victimized – people with cognitive disabilities have the highest rate of victimization.  Children with intellectual disabilities are at twice the risk of physical and sexual abuse compared to children without disabilities.

The Arc Advocacy Network in Indiana can provide information, referral and advocacy to assist and guide individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families in understanding and applying for government programs, including Medicaid and home and community based services through the Medicaid Waiver program.  It can also serve as a resource to schools and local public and private agencies serving children and adults with disabilities.

Finally, The Arc has launched an online pledge to generate support to end acts of violence, abuse, and bullying of people I/DD.  The Arc and The Arc of Indiana encourage members of the public to sign this pledge to show their support.

Case Dismissed: National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability Provides Critical Support to Bring Justice in Illinois

The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD) fields calls from all over the country regarding people with disabilities in the criminal justice system. From a first encounter with a police officer to their time behind bars, the horrors people with disabilities regularly face are shocking and appalling. All too often, it’s simply a blatant disregard for human rights that set off a chain of events that deny people with I/DD justice. And the fact that this continues to occur in 2014 is unacceptable. However, every so often, a case comes to our attention and events unfold in a way that looks a little bit more like “justice.”

Pathways to Justice - First Contact

A few months ago, an Illinois family contacted NCCJD to search for assistance. Their son, Jack1, who has intellectual and developmental disabilities, had been charged with felony assault at the group home he had recently moved into. After a verbal altercation between Jack and another resident, a third resident called the police. Jack was arrested and, in the process, struck a police officer who grabbed him by the hoodie from behind as he attempted to exit the situation. The officer threatened to taze him if he did not cooperate while they had Jack on the ground trying to handcuff him.

Pathways to Justice - Jail

Jack spent 24 hours in jail without support or access to his medication. His parents called and spoke to the supervisor of the Adult Detention Center to inform them of Jack’s needs. Jack’s parents were told that their son should be able to tell the nurse himself about his needs and pharmacy information. Jack was unable to do that, leaving him at risk and without access to his medications. Jack was read his Miranda rights without assistance and he did not understand what he was agreeing to. His parents were never called while he was jailed.

Jack was assigned a public defender the day he went to bond court. The judge initially put a large bond on Jack because he struck a police officer. However, the public defender argued for low-no bail because of Jack’s disability. The judge reduced bond from $30,000 to $10,000, after asking Jack’s parents if they could afford the $1,000 on a $10,000. Jack was out on bond when, as part of the legal process, his competency was evaluated and he was found unfit to stand trial. The state attorney refused to dismiss charges and the public defender was forced to send Jack for a sanity evaluation—which was completed by the same state appointed psychologist that earlier saw him for competency. Jack was found not sane at the time of the incident.

Pathways to Justice - Trial

These sets of circumstances are all too common for people with disabilities, and are a great injustice. Thankfully, Jack had a public defender that insisted upon a competency evaluation and a sanity evaluation. And Jack’s parents contacted NCCJD and The Arc of Illinois Life Span Program looking for resources. Jack’s mother found NCCJD through The Arc’s main webpage and used the “Request Assistance” form to e-mail NCCJD. Working together with family members, Jack’s service providers, The Arc of Illinois Life Span Program, and NCCJD, advocates were able to put together a personalized justice plan for Jack. The plan outlined resources and possible alternatives for assisting Jack in the community and the plan was supported by the Director of Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Developmental Disabilities. The report was submitted to Jack’s public defender, who used the report to get the case dismissed. Because the public defender was able to demonstrate that Jack had appropriate services in the community and that there were additional supports being made available as needed, the case was dismissed.

Jack was arrested in mid-March of 2014 and the case was finally dismissed in mid-October. There were almost monthly hearings throughout the ordeal, causing a great amount of stress to everyone involved. When the case was finally dismissed, the family felt like Jack had been misunderstood by the legal system from the beginning. They believe the court did not understand the difference between mental illness and developmental disability, because the judge often spoke to Jack as though he had a normal IQ but was experiencing mental illness. The parents continually questioned the public defender as to whether the judge and state attorney were aware that Jack had a developmental disability. Despite all the shortcomings in this case, the public defender took the necessary steps to ensure dismissal of the case, and the Judge was open to reading the personalized justice plan and making a dismissal.

When asked how he felt when he was arrested, Jack said:

“My heart was racing 290 because I was in the back of a squad car, handcuffed.” [At the police station] “I pretty much felt like a nervous wreck.” [When I went to the Adult Detention Center] “I felt sick to my stomach because I was around people I didn’t know.” [A couple of days before court] “I felt scared and nervous.” [At court] “I felt scared I was going to jail.” [On the last day of court] “the judge calmly talked to me and explained what would happen the next time I got in trouble.” [When the court case was dismissed] “I was still edgy.” “I feel more calmly now” [that it is over.]

The family said of their experience:

“Although this experience was excruciatingly painful for us, there was a positive outcome. The experience has helped our family realize there is work to be done in this area to make sure this never happens to anyone else. We are on board with helping NCCJD and The Arc of Illinois in any way we can to get legislation changed and the first responders, courts, etc. trained in handling the I/DD population. This needs to happen in all communities across the U.S. with group homes. NCCJD is a great national center to dispense this information so that each state/community doesn’t have to keep reinventing the wheel, which would make this happen even faster! We would also like to thank Leigh Ann Davis and Kathryn Walker for their time and efforts. Leigh Ann took time out of a business trip to make contact with me to make sure information was being shared. This is what we need — go to people!!!”

Deb Fornoff, Director of The Arc of Illinois, Illinois Life Span Program said:

“The staff of The National Center on Criminal Justice and Developmental Disability provided support, information, and connection with experienced legal advocates who provided the information we needed to put together a Personal Justice Plan. This Plan was assembled with tremendous collaboration between this man’s family and their son’s service providers, and facilitated by the staff from Illinois Life Span. It provided much needed information to the court about this individual and the services and supports in place and available to him. The plan included details that were otherwise very difficult to address. Thank you, Leigh Ann Davis and Kathryn Walker for your time, your help, and your ongoing commitment to alleviating the injustice that currently exists for individuals with ID/DD in our legal system nationwide.”

NCCJD would not be the resource it is without the dedication of advocates like Deb and families like Jack’s. To anyone with a criminal justice and disability issue, please request assistance! For more information on Personalized Justice Plans, view NCCJD’s archived webinar.

To find a list of resources by state or submit a resource, please visit our state by state map.

1 Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

The Arc Weighs In on Dr. Phil Shows on the Case of Kelly Stapleton

Dr. Phil logoWashington, DC – Last week, Dr. Phil aired two shows about the case of Kelly Stapleton, a mother from Michigan who attempted to take the life of her daughter, Issy, who has autism, and herself last year. The Arc released the following statement in response to the reporting done by the Dr. Phil Show.

“Kelly Stapleton’s failed attempt to take the life of her daughter, Issy, must be understood for exactly what it is – a crime of the worst magnitude – and her attempt to take her own life illustrates that likely she was experiencing a significant crisis in her own mental health. The act of a parent to kill or attempt to kill her own child is not a rational act, regardless of whether the child has a disability or how challenging the circumstances, and is never acceptable and offends our deepest values and sensibilities.

“There are, though, other lessons to be learned here. Unfortunately, the horrific story of the Stapletons shows what too many families across the country are facing – a failing system of supports and services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Stapletons were in a challenging situation and seeking help for their daughter so that she could continue to be with her family, attend school, and be a part of her community. If the system – in the end, the school district that rejected Issy’s inclusion for the school year – had not failed them, this family’s reality could have turned out very differently.

“Kelly’s actions are indefensible, and sensationalizing this family’s tragic story only hurts the public’s perception of autism. Issy’s voice, or the voice of a peer on the autism spectrum, should have been heard by the millions who tune in to Dr. Phil. His audience should have had the opportunity to learn from an individual with autism what it’s like to live with autism, and how services and supports can make a huge difference in their daily life. America needs to be woken up to this national crisis – the lack of access to services and supports for people with disabilities is an unacceptable reality and Issy and millions like her deserve much, much better,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc Calls on Cuyahoga County Prosecutor to Pursue Ice Bucket Challenge Assault Perpetrators to Fullest Extent of the Law

Washington, DC – As the nation has reacted with outrage to the incident in Bay Village, Ohio where a teenager with autism was doused with urine instead of ice water in a fake Ice Bucket Challenge, The Arc is calling on the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office to charge the five teenagers identified in the case to the fullest extent of the law.

“The perpetrators of this horrific act, who reportedly were neighborhood friends of the victim, need to be held accountable for their behavior.  While some seek to characterize what was done to this teen as an innocent prank, it is anything but.  Call it what it is – it was an assault and abuse.  These kinds of acts are an outright attack on the humanity of people with autism and other intellectual or developmental disabilities in Ohio and nationwide.  There is no possible excuse for this type of assault and the perpetrators should be prosecuted,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

“Unfortunately, people with disabilities experience violence and abuse at high rates, often at the hands of abusers who are known to them.  Many have a strong need to feel accepted and fit in which can, at times, lead them into places and situations with people who they think are their friends, but who are anything but.  When abuse or other violent acts are committed, whether by friends or complete strangers, our legal system must respond.  In this case, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office must send a message that will stop future perpetrators in their tracks – it is not okay to attack a person with a disability,” Berns added.

The Arc has a long history of standing up for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), and supporting them to do the same, when they find themselves in dangerous situations and in our legal system.  Most recently, last year, The Arc was awarded a two-year grant for $400,000 by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to develop the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD).  This is the first national effort of its kind to bring together both victim and suspect/offender issues involving people with I/DD under one roof.  NCCJD is a national clearinghouse for research, information, evaluation, training and technical assistance for justice and disability professionals and other advocates that will build their capacity to better identify and meet the needs of people with I/DD, whose disability often goes unrecognized, and who are overrepresented in the nation’s criminal justice system.  Currently, NCCJD is developing training and technical assistance for law enforcement agencies that will support police departments like Bay Village’s force, as well as prosecutor’s offices,  such as the office in Cuyahoga County, to administer justice for people with disabilities.  And The Arc supports people with I/DD to be prepared for situations like these, connect them with other survivors of abuse and bullying, and find a collective voice to stand up against it.

The Arc also runs the Autism NOW Center, an online resource center that helps people weed through the volumes of information found online about autism spectrum disorders and provide high-quality, vetted resources and information to people with autism and other developmental disabilities, their family, friends, colleagues, teachers, employers and others.

“Never should a human have to endure such needless acts of abuse. It is never justified and it is never the victim’s fault for they may not even know why they were treated the way they were, but there are people who do. The ones who do know why this kind of abuse is so wrong are the ones who stand together, like The Arc and our chapters, which stand united to push for these random acts of abuse to be punished by law.   Random acts of kindness make a better person. Be good to those in need and one day the favor will be returned twofold,” Amy Goodman, Co-Director of the Autism NOW Center.

“We cannot stand by and accept this horrific act- the prosecutors know what they must do and they must do it swiftly to send the message that attacks on people with disabilities will not be tolerated and will be punished,” Cindy Norwood, Executive Director, The Arc of Greater Cleveland.

Chapters of The Arc Selected for National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability’s “Pathways to Justice” Training Program

We are pleased to announce that five chapters of The Arc were selected to pilot implementation of The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability’s (NCCJD) “Pathways to Justice” Training Program. Through this program, chapters will help build the capacity of the criminal justice system to effectively identify, serve and protect people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), many of whom have “mild” disabilities that often go unnoticed among criminal justice professionals without appropriate training.

Each chapter will create and/or strengthen their current multidisciplinary team on criminal justice and disability issues (what NCCJD is referring to as “Disability Response Teams”) and gather roughly 50 trainees from law enforcement, victim advocacy and the legal profession for a one-day training on criminal justice issues. The selected chapters are listed below:

“When individuals with I/DD become involved in the criminal justice system as suspects or victims, they often face miscommunication, fear, confusion and prejudice. The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability plays a critical role in improving first response and communication between people with I/DD and the justice system nationally.

“Through NCCJD’s “Pathways to Justice” training program we are tapping into the most powerful resource The Arc possesses – our chapter network. The five chapters selected either have longstanding criminal justice programs or a commitment to building their capacity in providing such training, both of which are invaluable to achieving NCCJD’s overall goals. We look forward to working closely with each chapter and learning from their work. Through this collaborative effort NCCJD will become a national focal point for the collection and dissemination of resources and serve as a bridge between the justice and disability communities,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Last year, The Arc was awarded a two-year grant for $400,000 by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to develop the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability.  This is the first national effort of its kind to bring together both victim and suspect/offender issues involving people with I/DD under one roof.  The goal of this project is to create a national clearinghouse for research, information, evaluation, training and technical assistance for justice and disability professionals and other advocates that will build their capacity to better identify and meet the needs of people with I/DD, whose disability often goes unrecognized, and who are overrepresented in the nation’s criminal justice system – both as victims and suspects/offenders

The Arc Responds to U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Hall v. Florida

The Arc released the following statement following news that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Freddie Lee Hall in the case Hall v. Florida, a death penalty case concerning the definition of intellectual disability (ID) that Florida uses in deciding whether an individual with that disability is protected by the Court’s decision in Atkins v. Virginia. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in the Atkins v. Virginia case that executing inmates with ID is unconstitutional as it violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Hall. The justices stated that Florida cannot rely solely on an IQ score to determine whether an inmate has ID.  Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that IQ tests have a margin of error and those inmates whose scores fall within the margin must be allowed to present other evidence. Additionally, Justice Kennedy modified the 2002 Atkins decision by adopting the term “intellectually disabled” and abandoning “mentally retarded,” which has previously been used by the court in its opinions.

“Today the Supreme Court reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring justice for individuals with intellectual disability. The clarification of the landmark ruling in Atkins v. Virginia will serve as a tool to ensure justice for individuals with intellectual disability who face the death penalty  in states across the country.  Disability advocates and legal experts across the country will look back to this decision for years to come.

“The Arc is committed to fighting for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and we will continue our legal advocacy work to make sure that the Supreme Court ruling on this issue is followed in jurisdictions across the country,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Hall case centered on whether the state may establish a hardline ceiling on IQ, refusing to consider whether anyone with an obtained IQ above that level may actually have ID, despite the fact that use of such a ceiling undermines the purpose of IQ testing and the professional judgment of the diagnostician, among other things.  In Hall, the Court was asked to address Florida’s decision to draw the line at an IQ of 70.  Based on the professional expertise of two leading professional organizations in the field, the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA), it is universally accepted that IQ test scores must be interpreted by taking into account the standard error of measurement that is inherent in IQ tests. That means that any IQ test score is best understood as a range, rather than a single score:  a score of 70, for example, is best understood as indicating that the person’s “true” IQ score is most likely between 65 and 75.

In addition to IQ testing, numerous expert evaluations documented Freddie Lee Hall’s disability.  Before the Supreme Court’s decision in Atkins, a Florida trial court found that Hall had ID “all of his life”.  His family recognized his disability in early childhood and teachers repeatedly noted his intellectual disability.

The Arc has participated in a number of cases on this issue before the Supreme Court including Atkins v. Virginia.  The Arc’s amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief was cited by the Justices in support of its ruling that the Constitution protects all defendants with ID. On December 23, 2013, The Arc submitted an amicus brief for the Hall v. Florida case.

Through a two-year grant for $400,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), The Arc established the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD) which is addressing, among other critical issues, people with ID on death row and the importance of using an accurate definition for ID within courtrooms across America. NCCJD is creating a national clearinghouse for research, information, evaluation, training and technical assistance for justice and disability professionals and other advocates that will build their capacity to better identify and meet the needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), whose disability often goes unrecognized. Providing accurate, effective and consistent training for criminal justice professionals is critical to ensuring the safety of people with disabilities.