High Court Bars Rigid IQ Cutoff for Executions

Richard Wolf, USA Today, May 27, 2014

The Supreme Court made it more difficult Tuesday for states to execute prisoners who claim an intellectual disability, marking the first time it has fine-tuned its landmark 2002 decision barring the death penalty for those with mental impairments.

The court ruled that Florida must apply a margin of error to IQ tests administered to Freddie Lee Hall, 68, who killed a 21-year-old pregnant woman and a deputy sheriff in 1978. The state had argued that any test score above 70 made prisoners eligible for a death sentence, despite medical guidelines that permit scores to reach 75.

“Intellectual disability is a condition, not a number,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said in the 5-4 ruling, joined by the court’s four liberal justices.

The decision will affect a handful of states with similar policies among the 32 states with death penalties on the books. Though very few prisoners with intellectual disabilities will be granted reprieves as a result, the ruling clarifies a delicate area of criminal law.


Justice Samuel Alito and the court’s three other conservatives dissented, arguing that the court should not strike down a state law and interpret the Eighth Amendment based on “the evolving standards of professional societies” such as the American Psychiatric Association.

The case marked a return for the court to Atkins v. Virginia, its 2002 decision that executing people with intellectual disabilities violates their Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment.


The key dispute ever since Atkins was decided has been who gets to define “mental retardation,” now referred to as intellectual disability–states or medical professionals. The Supreme Court set a three-prong test that includes intellectual functioning, adaptive behavior and age of onset. Florida doesn’t consider the latter two prongs if the IQ score is above 70.

At most, nine states employ a strict IQ score cutoff of 70, Kennedy noted, but in four of those, state courts have not upheld the laws. That leaves only Alabama, Arizona, Kentucky and Virginia in the same category as Florida; none of those states has executed anyone this year, nor do they have any executions scheduled.


The number of executions in the USA peaked at 98 in 1999, then dropped to 39 by last year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Twenty prisoners have been executed this year.

From 1984 to 2001, 44 people with intellectual disabilities were executed. Since the Atkins ruling, several hundred claims involving such impairments have been filed by prisoners on death row, representing about 7% of all cases, according to John Blume, a Cornell University law professor. Slightly more than 100 sentences have been reduced as a result, a 28% success rate.

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  • Executive summary:

    IQ matters. The Supreme Court says so.

    • r j p

      It provides for disparate impact upon Whites and Asians. A White would have to be a Corky to avoid the death penalty, a black need only be > -1 StdDev from black mean IQ.

    • dd121

      When it suits their agenda.

  • JSS

    So we have another display of liberal double think. IQ is a myth and shouldn’t matter when it comes hiring practices and school admissions. Yet it does matter when it comes to saving the lives of brown and black criminals. The only thing our overlords are consistent on is that if something is bad for Whites and good for diversity then they all for it, even that means holding two contradictory opinions on something as this article demonstrates.

    • Sick of it

      Also consider that, to them, it’s the worst sort of evil to kill a stupid man…but not a smart one. The world is filled with stupid people.

  • Tarczan

    So to save yourself from execution one has to just flunk an IQ test? It shouldn’t be too hard, I’m sure the defense attorney will coach them up on failing the test.

  • Alexandra1973

    Raise the bar enough and no blacks (guilty of a capital crime) will get to be executed.

    • NeanderthalDNA

      My dyslexic brain read that headline at first as “High Court Bars Rigid IQ Cutoff for Executives”…

      Which made it sound like they were trying to slime more blacks into CEO spots. There should be an IQ cutoff for CEO’s come to think of it, lol…

  • MekongDelta69

    “From 1984 to 2001, 44 people with intellectual disabilities were executed.”

    So – blacks can do pretty much whatever they want (which they do already) – and not have to worry about anything.

    Basically – Africa…

  • Jesse James

    It doesn’t matter how intelligent old Yeller was, when he went frothing at the mouth mad you put him down. A retarded person who rapes, tortures and murders someone is not salvageable. Funny that a society that is happy to allow doctors to kill thousands of babies every year somehow finds it morally problematic to execute someone with an IQ of 70. Why not just go ahead and raise it to 85 and let the majority of blacks completely off the hook for the death penalty? Perhaps this is what they are working towards.

    • saul7

      Indeed what sense does it make to salvage the savage…?…

  • Samuel_Morton

    If they raised the minimum to the black U.S. mean IQ of 85, then fully half of all blacks are ineligible for the death penalty.

    And if you consider that most criminality comes from the left side of the bell curve, then that would effectively ban capital punishment for blacks only.

    • r j p

      And ~82 % of Whites would be eligible.

    • Romulus

      That’s exactly right Same. The chimp in chief along with his Buddy, eric “my people” holder, want to end the cradle to prison pipeline for the negroes. This story also falls in line perfectly with the blacks eliminating the “check the box” on hiring applications.

  • Ike Eichenberg

    I don’t see how it is anymore cruel to execute a retard than it would be to execute a democrat.

    Don’t do the crime…

    • Usually Much Calmer

      I actually think it is humane to execute criminals rather than keep them in captivity as neglected pets.

      I’m a democrat, by the way.

    • curmudgeon

      You are repeating yourself.

  • IstvanIN

    I believe it would be more possible, and safer, to rehabilitate the Menendez Brothers and release them into society than DeVonte or Wakia.

  • Samuel_Morton

    So according to the Supreme Court, an IQ of 70 is way too low for a capital punishment cutoff – there are also really stupid people within the 70-80 range who deserve mercy.

    I wonder if it’s now OK to question the wisdom of encouraging immigration from sub-Saharan Africa, where the mean IQ is 70?

    Nah, that would be too much noticing…

  • WR_the_realist

    I will definitely make sure I flunk my IQ test the next time I find myself on death row.

  • humura

    The leftwingers denounce IQ except when they can use it to obstruct justice. Murderers should be executed. If an idiot murders, all the more reason to execute him, for he may be incapable of learning it was wrong and want to do it again.
    The Constitution mentions the death penalty. It was not considered cruel or unusual. Only the leftwing ideologues on the court, who have sworn to uphold the Constitution, purposely misread it so as to dismantle it. The high court does not want justice, it demands the opposite – liberalism.

    • dcc2379

      Right on. When IQ proves blacks are, on average, dumber than whites, the tests are biased. When the same test saves the life of a savage, voila, the test is no psychometrically sound.

    • curmudgeon

      Aah, just some more of their normal double standards.

  • dd121

    Would somebody explain to me why being stupid makes it okay to kill a pregnant white woman.

    • Jesse_from_Sweden

      Because if you are that stupid then you aren’t smart enough to realize the results of your actions.
      Like animals.

      Of course, animals who aren’t capable of such thinking and kills a human (who is capable of such thinking) is put down for the safety of everyone.

  • Wait a minute! I thought one’s IQ wasn’t important? Isn’t the Left always telling us that IQ tests are biased and fail to account for the depth and ‘diversity’ one’s intelligence level? But now that someone might be executed for their hideous crime, IQ happens to be something we should consider?! One should never expect consistent logic from Lefties.

    • curmudgeon

      Lefty logic? You will find that where they stable their unicorns.

  • Adolf Verloc

    I have known a number of mentally retarded people over the years, and this case is an insult to 99% of the retarded. Most are gentle and good-natured. A low IQ should be no reason to avoid a just punishment.

    • curmudgeon

      You must live in an area that votes heavily democrat?

  • 4321realist

    A black with an I.Q. of 60 has no problem knowing that killing someone is wrong and that he will pay with his life if he does so.

    It’s a mystery to me why some people feel murderers should not be executed if they commit murder.

  • Funruffian

    Let’s get this straight. It’s illegal and unfair to exclude mentally inferior people College admission, job status, or welfare benefits. But it’s fair to allow them clemency from Capital Punishment for their low IQ’s. The Low IQ in this country is truly an advantage, especially if you are Black. It’s just another case of Black privilege.

  • Sloppo

    Human stupidity is a precious resource which this country must continue to work hard to preserve. We’ve spent trillions of dollars over several decades on our dysgenics program to support and accelerate the reproductive activities of the least intelligent, least productive, and most criminally prone segments of our population, and we must not sacrifice ANY of that precious stupidity in the name of “justice”. Hopefully, one day, the USSA can proudly boast of an average IQ even lower than the one achieved by the population of Equatorial Guinea (59). USSA! USSA! USSA!

    • Grantland


  • The closest thing you’ll get to an admission of double standards when it comes to IQ, from a race-denialist liberal, is a grin. Deep down they know they’re wrong, yet they refuse to change their opinions. What a terrible mental illness they have.

  • curmudgeon

    Well, that pretty much saved all democrat voters currently on death row and for generations to come. Gives a little more positive emphasis on the abortion question.