Death Penalty - Defendant with Low IQ

Freddie Lee Hall, an intellectually-disabled man who has been on the death row in Florida for 36 years, has been given a reprieve by the U.S. Supreme Court. In Hall v. Florida, the court in a 5-4 decision held that Florida could not refuse to take into account psychological factors other than an intelligence test reflecting a borderline IQ. Florida had refused to review the death sentence on the basis that Hall had scored 71 on an IQ test, even though expert testimony suggested that Hall’s IQ was lower than that.

Richard Dieter

Richard Dieter

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, discusses the ramifications of the Court’s ruling. “In the scientific community, any kind of experiment or test has a margin of error,” Dieter explains. Florida needs to take that into account. This particular ruling will affect a relatively small number of people, Dieter says. It’s not clear how many other states are in the same situation as Florida. Justice Kennedy observed that “Florida’s law contravenes our nation’s commitment to dignity and its duty to teach human decency as the mark of a civilized world.”

Dieter opines that there may be a changing perception of the utility of the death penalty in a number of states. “People are becoming frustrated with the death penalty, even those who support it,” says Dieter. There are many problems with the penalty, including the lethal injection cases that have been in the news lately.

Richard C. Dieter is an attorney and native of New York City. He has been the Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, DC since 1992. Mr. Dieter has worked for many years on issues related to human rights and the death penalty and has testified about the death penalty before numerous state legislatures and has prepared reports for the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.