Supreme Court: states must look beyond IQ score of death row inmates

A 5-4 decision was handed down by the Supreme Court that Florida and a handful of other states must not look at an IQ score above 70 as determinative of mental capacity – inmates that fall within the margin of error of the IQ tests must be allowed to present other evidence of mental disability.


An IQ score of above 70 is widely accepted to determine someone does not have a mental disability.  Mental health professionals argued to the Court that due to the margin of error, those possessing scores as high as 75 could still qualify as disabled using other criteria, due to the margin of error of these tests.


“The states are laboratories for experimentation, but those experiments may not deny the basic dignity the Constitution protects,” Kennedy said in an opinion that was joined by the court’s four more liberal justices.

Kennedy relied on legal briefs filed by psychiatrists and psychologists who supported Hall to undergird his opinion.  Beyond the test score, the groups said there’s a consensus among the mental health professions that an accurate diagnosis also must include evaluating an individual’s ability to function in society, along with finding that the mental disability began in childhood.

Hearing this decision restored some of my faith in the Supreme Court.  Not much, but it did restore it a little.  We cannot allow any one single factor to ever determine something as complicated as mental capacity.  How can a single test of anything relating to mental health be absolutely determinative.  Also, when it comes to something as serious as putting someone to death – we want to be sure that they have the mental capacity to understand and appreciate the nature and quality of the actions they took that made them eligible for the death penalty.  Someone can be criminally insane and a danger to society – but are we prepared as a society to accept killing anyone, no matter their mental capacity?  I believe the supreme court, at least to some extent, to a stance to say that no…we are not.