"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Who Is Intellectually Disabled? Supreme Court Orders Alabama To Reconsider Death-Row Case

A month after a ruling against Texas' standards for determining when someone is intellectually disabled — and, therefore, ineligible for the death penalty — justices sent a case back to Alabama courts for further review over similar questions.

A US Supreme Court decision from March over Texas' death penalty standards — specifically, how the state determines who is intellectually disabled — could have a ripple effect into another state with one of the country's largest death-row populations.

The Supreme Court on Monday ordered Alabama courts to reconsider whether the state's process for determining if a person is intellectually disabled, and thus ineligible for the death penalty, is constitutional in the wake of that March ruling.

Nearly 15 years ago, the Supreme Court held that it was unconstitutional for states or the federal government to execute intellectually disabled people. In that case — Atkins v. Virginia — and a follow-up case barring states from using a strict cut-off IQ measurement to determine intellectual disability, the court had left open questions about how a state could determine whether a person is intellectually disabled.

This past fall, however, the justices considered whether Texas used appropriate standards in making intellectual disability decisions in death penalty cases. The so-called Briseno factors used by Texas courts — a series of questions addressing adaptive skills — overemphasized a focus on adaptive strengths, the Supreme Court held in March, and were not appropriate.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court's five-justice majority, wrote that the use of the factors "creat[ed] an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed." Even Chief Justice John Roberts, who dissented from the court's ruling along with Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, wrote that he "agree[d] with the Court ... that those factors are an unacceptable method of enforcing the guarantee of Atkins."

The court sent Bobby James Moore's case back to the Texas courts to address his sentencing in light of the decision.

While Moore's case was pending before the justices, the lawyer for Taurus Carroll — on death row in Alabama — asked the justices to review Carroll's case on similar grounds. Carrol's lawyer, Benjamin Maxymuk, wrote that if the Supreme Court sided with Moore, Carroll "will be entitled to similar relief from his death sentence."

Alabama balked, writing one day before the decision in Moore's case was handed down that Carroll's case "is distinguishable from Moore because the Alabama courts do not require a consideration of the seven evidentiary factors developed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Ex parte Briseno" — in other words, Alabama did not use the Texas standards.

The justices did not take Alabama's advice. The court granted Carroll's case on Monday, vacated the lower court's judgment, and remanded the case to Alabama's Court of Criminal Appeals "for further consideration in light of Moore v. Texas."

Such a move is not uncommon when the justices issue decisions that have a bearing on similar laws in other states or affect related cases.

➤ Click here to read the full article

Source: BuzzFeed News, Chris Geidner, May 3, 2017

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