United States Supreme Court Pillars of Justice and LawSince 2002, the Supreme Court has banned the execution of people with intellectual disability. Writing for the Court, Justice John Paul Stevens looked to the clinical understanding of intellectual disability and explained that people with that condition bear diminished culpability “by definition” and are “categorically excluded from execution,” lest cruel and unusual punishment be imposed.
In spite of this categorical ban, people with intellectual disability still face execution in the U.S. because Texas – the state that carries out far more executions than any other state – has disregarded the Supreme Court’s directive that intellectual disability evaluations in death penalty cases must be informed by the medical community’s diagnostic framework. The Supreme Court will soon have an opportunity to address Texas’s unusual and bizarre approach.

Texas is a global outlier when it comes to its method for evaluating intellectual disability claims in death penalty cases. Remarkably, Texas prohibits the use of current medical standards. It is difficult, if not, impossible to locate any other jurisdiction in any country where it is forbidden to use current medical standards in evaluating intellectual disability. As with any field, when policy makers or courts not only defy scientific evidence or standards, but also disregard them, the results can be catastrophic—in this case, literally a matter of life or death. And briefs in the Supreme Court show that no other jurisdiction in the U.S. follows that practice.

The case before the Supreme Court is that of Bobby Moore. In 2014, a trial court in Texas conducted a two-day evidentiary hearing concerning Mr. Moore, a death row prisoner. Among many pieces of evidence, Mr. Moore, at 13, could not tell time and lacked an understanding of the days of the week. Relying on the most current medical standards, and after considering the testimony of multiple professionals trained in intellectual disability, the judge determined that Mr. Moore was intellectually disabled and ineligible for execution.

The complete article can be accessed on The American Constitution Society (ACS) blog available here.