U.S. Supreme Court Deciding Major Death Penalty Case Regarding Intellectual Ability and Capital Punishment: the Case of Freddie L. Hall

Right now, the U.S. Supreme Court is in the process of reviewing a Florida death penalty case that will impact capital punishment cases all across the United States. The High Court has agreed to review the decision made by the Florida Supreme Court in the case of Freddie L. Hall, a man sentenced to die under Florida law for killing a police officer as well as the rape and murder of a young pregnant woman back in 1978.

Attorneys for Mr. Hall are trying to block the State of Florida from executing him on the grounds that Freddie Hall has insufficient intellectual ability to allow for capital punishment under the Constitution. Their arguments are based upon the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

Read the Florida Supreme Court Opinion here.

Follow the U.S. Supreme Court Docket in Hall v. Florida, No. 12-10882, here.

This is a big deal because the Hall case asks a big question: when is someone so mentally challenged that they should not be executed? (The question presented to the Supreme Court reads: Whether the Florida scheme for identifying mentally retarded defendants in capital cases violates Atkins v. Virginia.)

It’s not the first time that the United States Supreme Court has considered this circumstance, but now the Court may give guidance on where the line should be drawn.  In the landmark Atkins v. Virginia case the Court determined that individuals suffering from mental disabilities (low IQ) could not be executed because it would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.  

Deciding what individuals are so limited as to be barred from capital punishment was not answered in Atkins, however.  

In the Hall case, the Supreme Court will be looking at the manner in which the State of Florida determines someone’s mental impairment and if the methods used by Florida (as well as other states, like Texas) are sufficient constitutionally.

Texas and Florida use similar methods: a 3-prong test where the subject must have demonstrated before the age of 18 years old to have a low IQ as well as impaired mental functioning. Florida, unlike Texas, also draws a line at an IQ of 70 or lower.

Freddie Hall has a record of IQ tests ranging from the mid 60s to 80, hence the appellate challenges made on his behalf since Florida prosecutors have argued that Hall can be executed under current Florida standards.

On November 25, 2013, oral arguments were set in the United States Supreme Court for March 3, 2014.

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