Court Cases By State - Missouri

Court Cases by Missouri

Johnson v. State of Missouri
102 S.W. 2d 535 (Mo. 2003)

Under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), it is unconstitutional to impose the death penalty on a mentally retarded defendant.

Tests of Johnson's IQ had led to varying results, as high as 83 (70-80 is borderline mentally retarded) and as low as 63 (mild mental retardation). The state Supreme Court held that reasonable minds could differ as to whether Johnson was mentally retarded, and remanded the case for a hearing.

The court relied heavily on evidence that Johnson had "defective adaptive skills, such as communication, self-care, social life, social and interpersonal development, self direction, and use of community resources." 102 S.W. 2d at 541. He "had deficient self-care skills in that he could not live alone and never had" and "had poor awareness of social mores." 102 S.W. 2d at 538-39.

Another expert apparently concluded that Johnson suffered from FAS. 102 S.W. 2d at 539. [Johnson's behavioral problems seem to be classic secondary disabilities of FAS.]

In relying on deficient adaptive skills as important evidence of mental retardation, the Missouri Supreme Court relied heavily on the Missouri statute which defined mental retardation. 102 S.W. 2d at 540. However, footnote 3 in the Supreme Court decision in Atkins defines mental retardation in similar terms.

[This decision may be significant in capital punishment litigation. The application of Atkins apparently is not limited to defendants whose cases were on direct appeal, or whose trials were after, the date Atkins was decided. Individuals with FAS typically function at a level lower than others with the same IQ. Thus in evaluating whether Atkins precludes execution of a particular defendant, it will often be important to determine if the defendant has FAS.]

State v. Johnson
22 S.W. 2d 183 (Mo. 2000)

Johnson was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Johnson offered some evidence related to FAE, but it was not sufficient to persuade the jury to vote for life imprisonment.

The relevant portion of the opinion states:

"Defendant emphasizes that he suffers from borderline retardation (below average intelligence), reflecting Fetal Alcohol Effect and a head injury. The jury heard expert evidence--from both defendant and the State--including the flat statement of defendant's expert that defendant 'is not mentally retarded. The jury weighed the expert testimony, the facts of this case, and evidence of defendant's long criminal history. In fact, this Court has upheld the death penalty in cases where defendant presented evidence of a low I.Q. and mental retardation."

22 S.W. 2d at 193. It appears that in the appellate court Johnson was arguing only that the death penalty was inappropriate because of his limited intelligence. It is unclear whether at trial the defendant urged that FAE as such was a mitigating factor, or only relevant as a possible method of proving limited intelligence.