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Pro-Con: Should government weigh in on mental health and capital punishment?

By Jessica Priest
Nov. 3, 2013 at 5:03 a.m.
Updated Nov. 4, 2013 at 5:04 a.m.


A Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision in 2004 created these questions to help identify whether a defendant is intellectually disabled:

  1. Did those who knew the person best during the developmental stage - his family, friends, teachers, employers, authorities - think he was mentally retarded at that time, and, if so, act in accordance with that determination?
  2. Has the person formulated plans and carried them through or is his conduct impulsive?
  3. Does his conduct show leadership or does it show that he is led around by others?
  4. Is his conduct in response to external stimuli rational and appropriate, regardless of whether it is socially acceptable?
  5. Does he respond coherently, rationally and on point to oral or written objections or do his responses wander from subject to subject?
  6. Can the person hide facts or lie effectively in his own or others' interests?
  7. Putting aside any heinousness or gruesomeness surrounding the capital offense, did the commission of that offense require forethought, planning and complex execution of purpose?


A Florida man on death row for more than 30 years may get his last reprieve in Washington, D.C., next year.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed last month to hear the case of Freddie Lee Hall, a man who scored a point too high on his IQ test to be found "mentally retarded."

The court's decision could have widespread implications for people in the criminal justice system suffering from mental illness, experts said.

In the Atkins v. Virginia decision in 2002, the justices prohibited the execution of intellectually disabled people, but the justices allowed the states to draft their own definitions of mental deficiency.

Hall was convicted for the 1978 murder of a pregnant housewife and a lawman.

His lawyers said Florida's definition of mental deficiency, which requires a "bright line" standardized IQ score of 70 or below, ignores science and violates the Eighth Amendment, which secures that excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

They asked the justices to go a step further than they did in the Atkins v. Virginia case - provide a standard by which their decision can be enforced.

The Sunshine State, meanwhile, insists the test complies with Atkins v. Virginia.

Texas reinstated the death penalty in 1974.

Although Texas has not enacted a statute prohibiting the death penalty for those with mental deficiency, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals created in 2004 the Briseno Factors.

Seven questions will help identify whether a defendant is intellectually disabled, the court said.

The American Bar Association also said in its September report that of the 13 percent of prisoners who have volunteered to forgo all available appeals, about 88 percent suffered from mental illness.

Should the U.S. Supreme Court set standards by which states define mental deficiency for people facing capital punishment?

PRO: Supreme Court should set IQ standard with additional training

Con: Jury should determine mental deficiency based on entire evidence



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