Friday, March 31, 2017

Intellectual Disability Still a Bar to Death Penalty, Says Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court on March 28 reaffirmed that intellectual disability is a constitutional barrier to the death penalty. The ruling in the case of Moore v. Texas upheld two previous decisions.

APA had signed onto an amicus brief last year in support of Moore with the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, American Psychological Association, National Association of Social Workers, and National Association of Social Workers Texas Chapter.

“The Court, consistent with APA’s position, sent the case of Bobby Moore back to a lower court after finding that Texas failed to apply contemporary medical standards for making the diagnosis of intellectual disability,” Marvin Swartz, M.D., told Psychiatric News. Swartz is chair of APA’s Committee on Judicial Action and a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine.

Moore was convicted of killing a store clerk in Houston during a 1980 robbery and sentenced to death. He later challenged the sentence on grounds of intellectual disability, based on Supreme Court decisions in the Atkins v. Virginia (2002) and Hall v. Florida (2014) cases. Moore had an IQ score just above the cutoff of 70, as well as other conceptual, social, and practical deficits.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the 5-3 majority, rebuked a Texas appeals court for using outdated, arbitrary standards for intellectual disability, instead of the current versions of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities clinical manual and APA’s DSM-5. Both sets of criteria, which are similar, emphasize that a single score on an IQ test is not sufficient to assess intellectual disability; instead, a comprehensive assessment of intellectual and adaptive functioning using contemporary standards by a mental health professional is necessary.

Hall indicated that being informed by the medical community does not demand adherence to everything stated in the latest medical guide,” she wrote. “But neither does precedent license disregard of current medical standards.”

For more in Psychiatric News about the Atkins and Hall cases, see “APA Joins Amicus Brief in Capital Case Before U.S. Supreme Court” and “Court Limits Use of IQ Score in Death Penalty Eligibility.”

(Image: Gary Blakely/Shutterstock)


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