27 May 2014

Law in Plain English: Hall v. Florida

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogHall v. Florida

Argument: Mar 3 2014

Discussion: Freddie Lee Hall was tried and convicted for the 1978 murder of Karol Hurst. His conviction and sentence was upheld by the Florida Supreme Court on direct appeal. After multiple appeals, Hall filed a motion to vacate his sentence because Florida law prohibits the trial court from sentencing to death a mentally retarded defendant who is convicted of a capital felony. The Florida Supreme Court's interpretation of mental retardation mandates a cutoff IQ score of 70. According to several IQ tests, Hall's score was recorded at 73, 80, and 71. Florida law requires the defendant to show that the trial court's finding that Hall was not mentally retarded was not supported by competent, substantial evidence. The Florida Supreme Court found that there was competent, substantial evidence to support the trial court's finding that Hall is not mentally retarded. As a result, the Court denied his motion.

Issue: The questions before the Court is whether the Florida scheme for identifying mentally retarded defendants in capital cases violates Atkins v. Virginia.

Holding: In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the state's threshold requirement as interpreted by the Florida Supreme Court is unconstitutional as a violation of the Eighth Amendment and disregards established medical practice.
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