December 01, 2019

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Grants Life Sentence to Bobby Moore

Bobby James Moore

Bobby James Moore

Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice

Capping off a legal saga that included two U.S. Supreme Court remands and the wholesale rejection of Texas’s judiciary-created scheme for evaluating intellectual disability claims, the Texas high criminal court finally issued a decision that will take Bobby Moore off of death row. On November 6, 2019, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) acknowledged that “the Supreme Court has resolved [Moore’s] claim in his favor. There is nothing left for us to do but to implement the Supreme Court’s holding. Accordingly, we reform Applicant’s sentence of death to a sentence of life imprisonment.”

The TCCA order referred to the U.S. Supreme Court’s second remand of the case, a per curiam decision issued February 19, 2019, in which it definitively held, “Moore has shown he is a person with intellectual disability.” The Court had first remanded Mr. Moore’s claim in 2017, in a ruling overturning the TCCA precedent that had set out a number of non-clinical criteria for Atkins v. Virginia intellectual disability determinations. In that decision, the Court emphasized that, while states may choose their own standards for Atkins determinations, they cannot diverge from scientific knowledge, as criteria rooted in unscientific stereotypes creates an impermissible risk of executing someone with intellectual disability. Though the Harris County District Attorney had agreed that Mr. Moore is intellectually disabled, the TCCA on remand again denied relief. Granting review a second time, the U.S. Supreme Court noted the TCCA’s nominal application of its instructions. Chief Justice Roberts, who authored the dissent from the Court’s first Moore reversal, wrote separately in concurrence, “[I]t is easy to see that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals misapplied [Moore] here.”

There is nothing left for us to do but to implement the Supreme Court’s holding.

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

Despite this rare pronouncement of a petitioner’s intellectual disability by the U.S. Supreme Court, the TCCA did not take action for nearly nine months. Now that his death sentence has officially been overturned, Mr. Moore, like others before him who have received Atkins relief, will no longer be subject to the solitary confinement of Texas’s death row, nor will he face execution.

The Project extends its warmest congratulations to Mr. Moore’s pro bono team, led by Cliff Sloan at Skadden Arps, and everyone else who contributed over the years to this hard-won result.