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CHICAGO, Dec. 23, 2013 — In an amicus brief filed today in the case of Freddie Lee Hall v. Florida, the American Bar Association contends that the state of Florida violates the Eighth Amendment rights of certain defendants facing the death penalty by using a test for determining mental retardation that “is not in accord with scientific understanding of mental retardation.”
The ABA brief argues that Florida violates the Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling in Atkins v. Virginia, which banned the execution of defendants with mental retardation. Although the court left the task of developing tests to determine whether a defendant has mental retardation to individual states, the court suggested a state’s definition should “generally conform to the clinical definitions of professional mental disability organizations.” Florida’s test, which uses a raw IQ score as the sole basis for its determination, is contrary to Atkins’ guidance, the ABA argues.
Because Florida’s test has no foundation in scientifically recognized definitions, it “prevents accurate assessment of whether a defendant has mental retardation and allows for the execution of individuals with mental retardation who would not be executed in states that have followed Atkins’ guidance,” the brief concludes.
The ABA takes no position on the death penalty itself. However, since 1989, the ABA has maintained policy opposed to the death sentence or execution of defendants with mental retardation.
The ABA's Hall amicus brief is available online here.
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