Case On Mental Retardation and Execution Heads to Supreme Court

Death Penalty

Death PenaltyDoes a lack of mental health excuse serious crimes? Should a low IQ spare criminals from the death penalty? Thanks to a contentious Florida case, the Supreme Court is raising these questions once again. As of Monday, justices’ opinions were all over the place. Some argued that Florida’s rule of thumb, prohibiting executions for those with an IQ of 70 or below (and only 70 and below), is too rigid. Others uphold the legal precedence of cases such as Atkins v. Virginia. The famous case granted states the rights to determine what constitutes a mental disability — and when that disability affects sentencing and executions.

Justices in favor of loosening Florida’s current laws were especially outspoken. “Several justices said that standard does not take into account the margin of error that professionals say is inherent in IQ tests. The justices questioned whether Florida simply intended to make more inmates eligible for the death penalty rather than truly sorting out which ones are mentally retarded,” The Washington Post reports. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy echos the sentiment, pointing out even the developers of IQ tests admit there is margin of error up to five points. “Your rule prevents us from getting a better understanding of whether that IQ score is accurate or not,” Kennedy said.

Justice Antonin Scalia, however, asks the Supreme Court to carefully consider objections based on data touted by psychological organizations. Scalia argued, “This APA [American Psychiatric Association] is the same organization that once said that homosexuality was a mental disability and now says it’s perfectly normal. They change their minds.” (Scalia, like many others, believes the decisions should remain up to state governments.)

The hearing comes in light of Obama’s controversial proposed changes to the budget. President Obama’s budget, the Los Angeles Times explains, may cut funding for those collecting Social Security Disability. For one, disabled Americans would not be able to collect benefits at the same time as collecting unemployment. “Worse, it does nothing useful to address the disability program’s looming fiscal crisis. That crisis is ignored completely in this budget,” The Los Angeles Times adds.

“This is a reprehensible use of the poor as a political football,” explains Matthew Hill, Managing Shareholder at Hill and Ponton, P.A. “This does nothing to address the overall issue of reducing the budget and its incredible burden on those just struggling to pay their bills.”

CNN speculates that the changes may or may not spare mentally disabled Americans. Mentally disabled Americans will remain eligible for Social Security Disability. Moreover, Obama’s budget outlines increased funding initiatives for the mentally ill. “As mental health has received increased attention after multiple mass shootings in recent years, the budget outlines $75 million for mental health programs specifically for youth and young adults,” CNN adds. Whether additional funding will be allotted for mentally ill adults is still up for debate.


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