The Arc Urges U.S. Supreme Court to Protect Constitutional Rights of People with Intellectual Disability on Death Row

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Hall v. Florida, a death penalty case concerning the definition of “mental retardation” (or intellectual disability (ID) as it is now called) 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.

“Florida is clearly violating the Supreme Court’s Atkins v. Virginia ruling and the Court must reaffirm its commitment to the rights of people with intellectual disabilities in our criminal justice system. Freddie Lee Hall has an intellectual disability, and Florida’s effort to flaunt the professional standards on IQ testing to end someone’s life needs to be stopped by the highest court in our country. It is immoral and unjust,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Hall case centers 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 has been 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 have 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 lower court records also include findings of severe and violent abuse of Hall during his childhood.

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 is developing the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability. This project 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, whose disability often goes unrecognized. Providing accurate, effective and consistent training for criminal justice professionals is critical.

Disability Case at the U.S. Supreme Court – What You Need to Know

Supreme Court of the United StatesEarlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Hall v. Florida, a death penalty case concerning the definition of “mental retardation” (or intellectual disability (ID) as it is now called) that states may use 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.

Numerous expert evaluations have documented Hall’s disability.  One psychologist’s examination found organic brain dysfunction and severe cognitive impairment, possibly due to repeated head trauma; neuropsychological testing showing severe brain impairment.  Another psychiatrist found that Hall is chronically psychotic; that he suffered violent child abuse; has organic brain damage and is paranoid. The lower court records include findings of severe and violent abuse of Hall during his childhood.

The Hall case is the first case the Supreme Court has taken on the issue of the death penalty for defendants with ID since the Atkins decision, which indicates that there could be a further clarification of states’ responsibilities under that decision.  Specifically, the Hall case centers on whether the state may establish a hardline ceiling on IQ, refusing to consider whether anyone with an IQ above that level may actually have ID (despite the fact that such a ceiling violates the nature of the tests involved and the professional judgment of the diagnostician, among other things).  In Hall, the Court has been asked to address Florida’s decision to draw the line at an IQ of 70.

The Arc strongly believes that every individual with ID should be protected from the death penalty and applauds the Court’s decision to hear this case.  In the past, The Arc has participated in a number of cases on this issue before the Supreme Court including Atkins v. Virginia.  Participating in an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief in the Atkins decision, The Arc’s  brief was cited by the Justices in support of its ruling that the Constitution protects all defendants with ID.  Since 2002, The Arc’s advocates have been actively involved in the implementation of the Atkins decision in the Federal and State courts across the country.

The Hall v. Florida case is not the only case pertaining to this issue in the news right now. Earlier this year, Warren Hill’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to halt his execution because he has ID was denied.  Hill’s lawyers filed a petition directly to the Supreme Court, stating that they had evidence proving Hill has ID.  However, in Georgia (where Hill was convicted), ID must be proven by the defendant “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the strictest standard in the country.

Many people in the disability community share The Arc’s belief that states should not be allowed to create a stricter or more limited definition of ID than the professionally accepted clinical definition of ID. To do otherwise allows the states to execute some people with ID while protecting others. This approach violates the intent of the Atkins decision.

The Arc will be closely following Hall v. Florida as it moves through the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014.

The Arc Responds to Warren Hill’s Appeal Denial by the Supreme Court

The Arc released the following statement following news that the United States Supreme Court declined to consider Warren Hill’s appeal to halt his execution because he has intellectual disability (ID). Hill’s lawyers filed the petition directly to the Supreme Court, stating that they had evidence proving Hill has ID. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in the Atkins v. Virginia case that executing inmates with ID is unconstitutional. However, in Georgia (where Hill is on trial), ID must be proven by the defendant “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the strictest standard in the country.

“We are extremely disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen not to accept Warren Hill’s appeal. The high court was the last chance for a man unjustly sentenced to death, and their inaction will cost Mr. Hill his life.  They failed to order a halt to the execution despite their prior ruling in Atkins v. Virginia that established that it is unconstitutional to execute an inmate with intellectual disability,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc, the nation’s largest civil rights organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), has been involved in this case through filing an amicus brief before the Supreme Court in earlier proceedings, and supporting Hill’s defense team through letters to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles and the District Attorney urging his sentence be commuted to life without parole.

 

The Arc Applauds Stay of Execution of Warren Hill, Vows to Continue Legal Advocacy Efforts

Washington, DC – This evening, the state of Georgia was scheduled to execute Warren Hill, a man who experts unanimously determined has an intellectual disability, which should have ruled out the death penalty per a 2002 Supreme Court ruling, Atkins v. Virginia.  But this afternoon, a Fulton County, Georgia judge stayed the execution and scheduled a hearing for this Thursday to hear the defense team’s challenge of the constitutionality of a new state law that shields the identities of the lethal injection drug’s manufacturer and physician who prescribes it.

“Today, Georgia came too close to ignoring experts and crossing the line drawn by a more than decade-old Supreme Court ruling protecting people with intellectual disability in our justice system.  While we breathe a sigh of relief for now, this battle is far from over for Mr. Hill and many more people with disabilities who may be at risk of unjust punishment.  This stay of execution was granted on another state legal matter in the case, not Mr. Hill’s disability.  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 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on this issue is followed in jurisdictions across the country,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Hill’s legal team had also appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to step in to stop the execution on the grounds of the Atkins v. Virginia decision, while simultaneously pursuing the state law issue.  The U.S. Supreme Court has not responded to this request yet.

The Arc, the nation’s largest civil rights organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), has been involved in this case filing an amicus brief before the Supreme Court in earlier proceedings, and supporting Hill’s defense team through letters to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles and the District Attorney urging his sentence be commuted to life without parole. In this most recent effort, The Arc called for the Supreme Court to step in and issue a stay to prevent the state of Georgia from executing Hill.

In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in the Atkins v. Virginia case that executing inmates with intellectual disability (ID) is unconstitutional.  But in Georgia, ID must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” by the defendant, the strictest standard in the country.

Supreme Court Must Act to Save Georgia Man with Disability from Imminent Execution

Washington, DC – With just a few days before the scheduled execution of Warren Hill in Georgia, The Arc calls for the Supreme Court to step in and issue a stay to prevent the state of Georgia from executing Hill who experts have unanimously determined has an intellectual disability.

“Warren Hill is nearly out of time, and the Supreme Court has an obligation to act before his life is taken away from him unjustly.  The facts speak for themselves – experts have unanimously agreed that he has an intellectual disability, and the Supreme Court has ruled that people with intellectual disability cannot be executed.  There is no room for interpretation – the Supreme Court must act,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in the Atkins v. Virginia case that executing inmates with intellectual disability (ID) is unconstitutional.  But in Georgia, ID must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt,” one of the strictest standards in the country.  The Arc participated in an amicus brief before the Supreme Court in earlier proceedings in this case, and supported Hill’s defense team through letters to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles and the District Attorney urging his sentence be commuted to life without parole.

“The entire disability community will be watching for the Supreme Court to issue a stay in this case.  It’s the right thing to do, and it upholds the Court’s previous ruling that executing a person with an intellectual disability is unconstitutional,” said Berns.