States must now look beyond IQ in death row cases, due to Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling which further defined mental instability.
Justice Anthony Kennedy said that, for court purposes, standard intelligence tests have too large a margin of error and that inmates should instead present other evidence of mental disability.
“The death penalty is the gravest sentence our society may impose,” Kennedy wrote in his decision. “Persons facing that most severe sanction must have a fair opportunity to show that the Constitution prohibits their execution. Florida’s law contravenes our nation’s commitment to dignity and its duty to teach human decency as the mark of a civilized world.”
The majority also argued that in most death-penalty states, multiple factors are considered to determine intellectual disability, not just an IQ measure. Up until today, Florida, Virginia and Kentucky were the only states that did not consider multiple factors in determining mental disability.
Kennedy was joined in his ruling by Justices Ruth Badar Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan in the 5-4 ruling.
Previous state law declared that an inmate who scores above 70 on a standard IQ test is not considered intellectually disabled, and thus, cannot contest his or her death sentence on the grounds of intellectual instability.
While a score of 70 is typically seen as the marker of mental disability, some medical professionals state that those who score as high as 75 can be considered mentally disabled, due to margin of error.
The dissent, as written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr, stated that the court was now adopting “uniform national rule that is both conceptually unsound and likely to result in confusion.”
In 2002, the high court decided that the execution of the mentally handicapped violated the Constitution’s prohibition against cruel ad unusual punishment. This new ruling is the first reevaluation of what mentally handicapped is defined as since the 2002 ruling.