Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Executing the Intellectually Disabled: a Stronger Prohibition

On 21 February 1978, Freddie Hall and his accomplice, kidnapped, raped and murdered a young woman, and in a separate incident, killed a sheriff’s deputy.  Hall’s siblings, teachers, and the Florida sentencing judge acknowledged that he was raised under horrific family circumstances. As a child, he was beaten between ten to fifteen times a week.

There is substantial evidence that Hall suffers from a severe intellectual disability, and it is clear that he was unable to contribute effectively to his own defence. However, this evidence was not considered enough to mitigate the capital offence. In Hall v. State, the Florida Supreme Court upheld his death sentence, holding that because his IQ was identified at 71, he was above a strict threshold of 70, as established in Cherry v. State.

Previously, the U.S. Supreme Court in Atkins v. Virginia had used diagnostic standards to formulate a three pronged test for identifying intellectual disability for capital proceedings – (a) significant subaverage intellectual functioning (established through an IQ test); (b) deficits in adaptive functioning (the inability to learn basic skills and adjust behaviour to changing circumstances); and, (c) onset of defects during the developmental period (e.g. before 18 years of age).
For the full text of this blog post for the Oxford Human Rights Hub, see: