Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Supreme Court Rules on Use of IQ in Death Penalty Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday decided that a fixed IQ score alone cannot be used by the states to evaluate intellectual disability and thus determine eligibility for the death penalty. In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court ruled in favor of Freddie Lee Hall, convicted more than three decades ago in Florida for the rape and murder of a 21-year-old woman.

“The majority demonstrated a recognition of the complexities in diagnosing intellectual disability and that such a diagnosis involves much more than reliance on an IQ score,” Richard Frierson, M.D., a professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, told Psychiatric News.

APA contributed to an amicus curiae brief on Hall’s behalf, arguing that an IQ score of 70 could not be used without also considering adaptive functioning and the age of onset of the condition. Those criteria reflect standards adopted in DSM-5, which the Court cited in its opinion. “As the majority opinion indicates, there are areas where professional expertise can inform the legislature and the courts so that the decision makers will have the consensus of the field before them in these very important determinations, commented APA President Paul Summergrad, M.D. “APA is pleased that the Court considered the advances in diagnosis contained in DSM-5 and our arguments in the amicus brief we filed along with the American Psychological Association in outlining the legal approach to be used for the determination of intellectual disability in death penalty cases.”

“The Court’s decision in Hall recognizes that criteria for diagnosis of mental disorders—here specifically intellectual disability—should be determined by professional standards, not by the arbitrary decisions of state legislatures,” said Paul Appelbaum, M.D., the Dollard Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine, and Law and director of the Division of Law, Ethics, and Psychiatry at Columbia University, in an interview. “From a court that is often skeptical of psychiatry, this is a major acknowledgment that courts should turn to psychiatry when issues related to the diagnosis of mental disorders arise.” Appelbaum is chair of the APA Committee on Judicial Action.

For more in Psychiatric News about the case Hall v. Florida, see the article, "High Court Weighs Standards for Intellectual Disability."

(Image: antb/