The Arc Responds to Execution of Ledell Lee in Arkansas: “A dark day for justice.”

Washington, DC – On April 20, the state of Arkansas carried out the execution of Ledell Lee, ignoring the pleas of advocates and legal experts across the country.  The Arc had urged Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson to commute this death sentence pending a full clinical evaluation to determine whether Mr. Lee had intellectual disability (ID). Following his execution, The Arc released the following statement:

“Today is a dark day for justice not just in Arkansas but across the country. The execution of Ledell Lee betrays the values of our legal system. If an evaluation of Mr. Lee had shown that he had intellectual disability, he would have been granted the protections of Atkins v. Virginia and subsequent Supreme Court decisions – protections that prohibited the use of the death penalty. Governor Hutchinson ignored the advice of legal experts across the country and Mr. Lee’s trial lawyers failed to properly investigate whether he had intellectual disability. These actions combined led to a gross miscarriage of justice that we will not soon forget,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

In a letter to the Governor, The Arc noted that the evidence presented by the neuropsychological expert in this case supports the conclusion that if Mr. Lee underwent a full evaluation, he would likely have met the three prongs of an ID diagnosis.

This evaluation was vital in this case because in its 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the special risk of wrongful execution faced by persons with ID and banned the execution of persons with ID as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Subsequently, in Hall v. Florida (2014), the Court rejected an arbitrary cutoff for IQ scores in making the intellectual disability determination and emphasized the importance of courts consulting clinical standards in their analysis. Most recently, in Moore v. Texas (2017), the Court rejected Texas’ use of stereotypical and outdated factors—rather than well-established clinical standards—to determine intellectual disability in death penalty cases on the grounds that they “create an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed.”

The Arc has deep sympathy for the family and friends of the victim in this case, and we supported appropriate punishment of all responsible parties. The Arc did not seek to eliminate punishment of Mr. Ledell or others with disabilities, but rather, to ensure that justice is served and the rights of all parties are protected. The Arc is committed to seeking lawful outcomes for people with ID and will continue working to ensure that the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on this issue are abided by in jurisdictions across the country.

The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

RE: Clemency for Ledell Lee

Dear Governor Hutchinson:

I write on behalf of The Arc of the United States (The Arc) to urge you to commute the death sentence of Ledell Lee pending a full clinical evaluation to determine whether Mr. Lee has an intellectual disability (ID). The Arc is a national non-profit organization which, for over 65 years, has sought to promote and protect the civil and human rights of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities through the work of its national office and over 650 state and local chapters throughout the country. Through its National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability®, The Arc seeks justice for those with ID who find themselves entangled in the criminal justice system, often without necessary accommodations or understanding of their disability.

The Arc has deep sympathy for the family and friends of the victims in this case, and we support appropriate punishment of all responsible parties. However, Mr. Lee’s history is replete with evidence indicating a potential ID diagnosis, which would bring him under the protection of the United States Supreme Court’s decisions in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), Hall v. Florida, 134 S. Ct. 1986 (2014), and the more recent decision in Moore v. Texas, No. 15–797, slip op. (U.S. Mar. 28, 2017).

In its 2002 Atkins decision, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the special risk of wrongful execution faced by persons with ID (formerly termed “mental retardation”) and banned the execution of persons with ID as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, noting that individuals with ID “do not act with the level of moral culpability that characterizes the most serious adult criminal conduct” and that “[n]o legitimate penological purpose is served by executing a person with intellectual disability…to impose the harshest of punishments on an intellectually disabled person violates his or her inherent dignity as a human being.” In its 2014 Hall decision, the U.S. Supreme Court further clarified its decision that people with ID not be executed in violation of the Constitution, requiring that adaptive behavior evidence, beyond IQ test scores alone, be taken into account when determining whether an individual has ID. The more recent Moore case further confirms adaptive behavior criteria as necessary in determining whether someone meets diagnostic criteria for ID, and that such criteria must comport with modern clinical and scientific understanding of ID.

The evidence presented by the neuropsychological expert in this case, Dr. Dale Watson, supports the conclusion that if Mr. Lee undergoes a full evaluation, he will likely meet the three prongs of an ID diagnosis: (1) significantly impaired intellectual functioning; (2) adaptive behavior deficits in conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills; and (3) origination of the disability before the age of 18. In order to complete his analysis, Mr. Lee’s adaptive deficits and history during the developmental period (before age 18) need to be fully assessed. Individuals with ID—like everyone else—differ substantially from one another. For each person with ID there will be things he or she cannot do but also many things he or she can do. Because the mixture of skill strengths and skill deficits varies widely among persons with ID, there is no clinically accepted list of common, ordinary strengths or abilities that would preclude a diagnosis of ID. Thus, the focus in assessing an individual’s adaptive behavior must be on deficits. As recently confirmed in Moore, adaptive strengths are irrelevant to this analysis and IQ alone cannot paint a full picture of whether a person has an ID. Thus, we urge that Mr. Lee receive a full evaluation for ID to determine whether he may be eligible for the Atkins constitutional protection from the death penalty.

Given the high likelihood of ID in this case, it is troubling that the lawyers who represented Mr. Lee throughout his trial failed to properly investigate evidence of Mr. Lee’s potential ID. As a result, no evidence of Mr. Lee’s potential disability was presented to the jury during the sentencing phase of his trial. If a full evaluation confirms Mr. Lee’s suspected diagnosis of ID, then Mr. Lee’s death sentence violates current prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment as set forth in the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Atkins, Hall, and Moore.

The Arc does not seek to eliminate punishment of Mr. Lee or others with disabilities, but rather, to ensure that justice is served and the rights of all parties are protected. The Arc is committed to seeking lawful outcomes for people with ID and will continue working to ensure that the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on this issue are abided by in jurisdictions across the country. I humbly ask that you consider commutation to address the possibility of an unconstitutional miscarriage of justice in the case of Ledell Lee.

Most respectfully,

Peter V. Berns
Chief Executive Officer
The Arc of the United States

The Arc Applauds Supreme Court’s Decisive Rejection of Texas’ “Wholly Nonclinical,” “Outlier” Standards in Determining Intellectual Disability

By: Shira Wakschlag, Director of Legal Advocacy & Associate General Counsel
       Ariel Simms, Criminal Justice Attorney Fellow

In decisively rejecting these “Briseno factors,” the Court embraces the standards-based approach in determining intellectual disability for which The Arc has long advocated. When it comes to matters of life and death, there is simply no room for courts to ground their determinations of intellectual disability in outmoded and baseless stereotypes.

On Tuesday, in the third decision in favor of people with disabilities in the Supreme Court this term, the Court issued a 5-3 decision authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the death penalty case Moore v. Texas. The opinion rejects Texas’ use of stereotypical and outdated factors—rather than well-established clinical standards—to determine intellectual disability in death penalty cases on the grounds that they “create an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed.” This is a major victory in protecting the rights of individuals with intellectual disability in the criminal justice system and in fulfilling the promise of two Supreme Court cases setting the standard that execution of people with intellectual disability is unconstitutional (Hall v. Florida (2014) and Atkins v. Virginia (2002)).

In Atkins, the Court held that executing defendants with intellectual disability violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Subsequently, in Hall, the Court rejected an arbitrary cutoff for IQ scores in making the intellectual disability determination and emphasized the importance of courts consulting clinical standards in their analysis. While the Court’s prohibition of the execution of defendants with intellectual disability could not be clearer, some states continue to define intellectual disability in a manner that significantly deviates from clinical standards, resulting in a miscarriage of justice for many defendants.

In this case, Bobby Moore, was convicted of killing a store clerk at the age of 20 in a botched robbery along with two accomplices. He was sentenced to death and challenged that sentence on the grounds of intellectual disability. In 2014, a state habeas court ruled that Moore did meet the criteria for intellectual disability and recommended that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) reduce Moore’s sentence to life in prison or grant him a new trial on the intellectual disability claim. On appeal, however, the CCA ruled that Moore did not meet the criteria for intellectual disability, finding that the lower court had failed to apply the seven-factor test laid out in an earlier Texas opinion, Ex Parte Briseno. The “Briseno factors” rely on stereotypes—rather than clinical definitions—through “the consensus of Texas citizens” in defining intellectual disability and are partly based on the character of Lennie in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Using these factors, the CCA found that, among other things, Moore’s ability to live on the streets, mow lawns, and play pool for money precluded a finding of intellectual disability and disregarded several IQ tests Moore had taken with scores in the intellectual disability range.

Decisively rejecting this ruling and referring to the Briseno factors as “wholly nonclinical” and an “invention of the CCA untied to any acknowledged source,” the Supreme Court held unanimously that such factors are impermissible to use in defining intellectual disability in death penalty cases. The Court noted that the Briseno factors were an “outlier” and that Texas did not employ this unscientific approach in determining intellectual disability in any legal issues other than the death penalty: “Texas cannot satisfactorily explain why it applies current medical standards for diagnosing intellectual disability in other contexts, yet clings to superseded standards when an individual’s life is at stake.”

Even Justices who disagreed with other aspects of the ruling (Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito, and Justice Clarence Thomas) agreed that the Briseno factors “are an unacceptable method of enforcing the guarantee of Atkins.” They disagreed that the CCA had erred in its determination of Moore’s intellectual functioning. The dissent criticized the majority opinion for its reliance on clinical standards as opposed to legal interpretation and precedent, noting: “clinicians, not judges, should determine clinical standards; and judges, not clinicians, should determine the content of the Eighth Amendment. Today’s opinion confuses those roles.”

With the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, The Arc filed an amicus brief in August 2016 in support of Moore and The Arc’s attorneys attended oral arguments at the Court in November 2016. The brief, cited in the Court’s opinion, argued that the state of Texas had distorted the clinical definition of intellectual disability by devising a formula of exclusionary factors that rested heavily on stereotypes and the mistaken notion that an ability to do things like engage in relationships, work, and live in the community precluded a finding of intellectual disability based on simultaneous limitations or challenges. Specifically, the brief noted that the “basic framework of the clinical definition is the constitutionally required standard for determining whether a defendant has intellectual disability.” Jim Ellis, a Distinguished Professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law who represented The Arc in this case said: “The Arc of the United States and its state chapters have played a vital role in protecting the rights of people with intellectual disability” in death penalty cases.

In decisively rejecting these “Briseno factors,” the Court embraces the standards-based approach in determining intellectual disability for which The Arc has long advocated. When it comes to matters of life and death, there is simply no room for courts to ground their determinations of intellectual disability in outmoded and baseless stereotypes.

The Arc has deep sympathy for the family and friends of the victim in this case, and we support appropriate punishment of all responsible parties. The Arc does not seek to eliminate punishment of Mr. Moore or others with disabilities, but rather, to ensure that justice is served and the rights of all parties are protected. The Arc is committed to seeking lawful outcomes for people with intellectual disability and will continue working to ensure that the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on this issue are abided by in jurisdictions across the country.

The Arc on Commutation for Death Row Inmate Abelardo Arboleda Ortiz In the Final Days of Obama’s Presidency

Washington, DC – The Arc commends President Obama for commuting Abelardo Arboleda Ortiz’s sentence from death to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Mr. Ortiz’s diagnosis of intellectual disability should have ruled out the death penalty per a 2002 Supreme Court ruling, Atkins v. Virginia. While the Court’s prohibition of the execution of defendants with intellectual disability could not be clearer, many states continue to define intellectual disability in a manner that significantly deviates from clinical standards, resulting in inconsistent application of Atkins and a miscarriage of justice for many defendants.

“With this decision, President Obama not only ensured justice for an individual with intellectual disability, he also affirmed the Supreme Court’s Atkins v. Virginia and Hall v. Florida rulings. We thank him for ensuring that justice was finally served in this case.

“Sadly, this is one of many cases where an individual with intellectual disability was wrongly being sentenced to death despite the protections promised by the Supreme Court.  We have much work to do to ensure access to justice is accessible for all citizens. The Arc remains committed to ensuring 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 Marty Ford, The Arc’s Senior Executive Officer of Public Policy.

The Arc has been involved in this case for years, having filed two amicus briefs in support of Mr. Ortiz, the first in 2010 in support of his appeal before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and the second in 2015 in support of his petition for writ of certiorari (request for review of the lower court’s decision) before the United States Supreme Court. Most recently, in December 2016, The Arc submitted a clemency letter to President Obama requesting the commutation of Mr. Ortiz’s sentence.

“In this case, the pursuit of justice was a team effort, and The Arc was a leading player.  At every step of the way, from the circuit court to the Supreme Court, The Arc had Mr. Ortiz’s back, pitching in to draft a key amicus brief and fighting for his rights in support of our legal team. This is the right decision not only for Mr. Ortiz, but for the future of legal advocacy for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Amy Gershenfeld Donnella, attorney for Mr. Ortiz.

Read more about this case on The Arc’s blog.

The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

Justice For Abelardo Arboleda Ortiz In the Final Days of a Presidency

By Shira Wakschlag | Director, Legal Advocacy & Associate General Counsel for The Arc

“In this case, the pursuit of justice was a team effort, and The Arc was a leading player. At every step of the way, from the circuit court to the Supreme Court, The Arc had Mr. Ortiz’s back, pitching in to draft a key amicus brief and fighting for his rights in support of our legal team. This is a win for not only Mr. Ortiz, but for the future of legal advocacy for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Amy Gershenfeld Donnella, attorney for Mr. Ortiz.

The Arc is thrilled to announce that President Obama has commuted the sentence of Abelardo Arboleda Ortiz—an individual with intellectual disability—from death to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Arc has been involved in this case for years, having filed two amicus briefs in support of Mr. Ortiz, the first in 2010 in support of his appeal before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and the second in 2015 in support of his petition for writ of certiorari (request for review of the lower court’s decision) before the United States Supreme Court. Most recently, in December 2016, The Arc submitted a clemency letter to President Obama requesting the commutation of Mr. Ortiz’s sentence.

In the brief before the U.S. Supreme Court, The Arc argued that:

In implementing this Court’s decisions in Atkins and Hall, both judges and clinicians must carefully evaluate whether a defendant satisfies the clinical definition of intellectual disability according to the consensus of the scientific community…In finding that Mr. Ortiz is not an individual with intellectual disability, the district court mistakenly relied on irrelevant testimony regarding Mr. Ortiz’s adaptive strengths rather than relevant testimony regarding his adaptive deficits, thereby rejecting the scientific community’s well-established guidelines governing intellectual disability. Broad acceptance of the district court’s mistaken reasoning would deprive individuals with intellectual disability of the protections and supports to which they are entitled under state and federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

This is a major victory in protecting the rights of individuals with intellectual disability in the criminal justice system and in fulfilling the promise of Hall v. Florida and Atkins v. Virginia. In Atkins, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the special risk of wrongful execution faced by persons with intellectual disability and banned their execution as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. In its more recent 2014 Hall decision, the Court reinforced its earlier decision that people with intellectual disability not be executed, requiring that consideration of evidence beyond IQ tests be taken into account when determining intellectual disability. While the Court’s prohibition of the execution of defendants with intellectual disability could not be clearer, many states continue to define intellectual disability in a manner that significantly deviates from clinical standards, resulting in inconsistent application of Hall and Atkins and a miscarriage of justice for many defendants.

The Arc has deep sympathy for the family and friends of the victim in this case, and we support appropriate punishment of all responsible parties. The Arc does not seek to eliminate punishment of Mr. Ortiz or others with disabilities, but rather, to ensure that justice is served and the rights of all parties are protected. The Arc is committed to seeking lawful outcomes for people with intellectual disability and will continue working to ensure that the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on this issue are abided by in jurisdictions across the country.

Learn more about The Arc’s legal advocacy work on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The Arc Responds to Florida Supreme Court’s Decision to Vacate Death Sentence for Freddie Lee Hall in Florida

Washington, DC – The Arc released the following statement following news that the Supreme Court of Florida reversed the circuit court’s order 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 U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Atkins v. Virginia. With this decision Freddie Lee Hall will be taken off death row and his sentence will be reduced to life in prison. In 2002, the U.S. 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.

“Today the Supreme Court of Florida showed its commitment to ensuring justice for individuals with intellectual disability. This decision is an affirmation of years of legal advocacy on behalf of Mr. Hall.

“With the original sentencing in Hall’s case Florida was violating the Supreme Court’s Atkins v. Virginia ruling and we are pleased to see justice finally being served. Our hope is that Florida’s decision will serve as guidepost to other states that have similar cases involving defendants with intellectual disability. While we are pleased with Florida’s decision, we also think of other individuals who were unjustly denied Atkins protections and sentenced to death, individuals like Warren Hill, executed in Georgia last year, despite the protections of the Atkins decision.

“The Arc remains 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 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.

The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, Autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, Cerebral Palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of nearly 700 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

Execution of Warren Hill “Shakes the Foundation of our Legal System for People with Intellectual Disabilities”

Washington, DC – This evening, the state of Georgia executed Warren Hill, a man who experts unanimously determined to have intellectual disability, which should have ruled out the death penalty per a 2002 Supreme Court ruling, Atkins v. Virginia, and a 2014 Supreme Court ruling, Hall v. Florida. There was a stay motion and a petition for a writ of certiorari filed to the U.S. Supreme Court which was denied this evening. Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Sonia Sotomayor voted to stay the execution.

“Georgia’s ability to ignore experts and cross the line drawn by a more than decade-old Supreme Court ruling shakes the foundation of our legal system for people with intellectual disabilities. Just last year, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring justice for individuals with intellectual disability, with their ruling in Hall v. Florida, and it is extremely disappointing that following this decision justice did not prevail in Georgia.

“The facts in this case are clear – experts unanimously agreed that Mr. Hill had intellectual disability, yet the appeals at the state and federal levels were ignored.  The state’s actions in this case are unconscionable,” 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.

“This is a sad day for our community, and a shameful one for the courts that allowed this unconstitutional execution to take place. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Hill’s family and his legal team.  The Arc will continue fighting for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and in the aftermath of this case we will only increase our legal advocacy efforts to ensure that the Supreme Court’s decisions are upheld and justice is appropriately served,” said Berns.

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.

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 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.