As we get closer to summer, our South Florida criminal defense attorneys know that Supreme Court decisions are just around the corner. In the coming months, we expect to hear a ruling on the case of Hall v. Florida, in which the defendant and his legal team are trying to demonstrate that the State of Florida acted unconstitutionally when they sentenced Mr. Hall, who may be retarded, to death.
In 2002, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that executing an individual who is mentally retarded constituted cruel and unusual punishment, forbidden by the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Freddie Hall, the defendant, is claiming that Florida’s criterion for determining whether or not someone is mentally retarded is flawed and in violation of the aforementioned case entitled Atkins v. Virginia.
If it can be established that Florida’s method of assessing mental retardation is indeed in violation of Atkins, then the finding that Mr. Hall is not mentally retarded would be reversed because of the improper procedures used in making the determination.
Mr. Hall was first convicted of murdering a woman back in 1978; four years later, he was sentenced to death. Mr. Hall, and the lawyers representing him, continued to appeal the ruling and, during one resentencing trial, the court actually determined that Mr. Hall was indeed mentally retarded. During the evidentiary hearing, though, Mr. Hall was given a test and his score exceeded the cut-off number used by Florida in determining whether or not someone is mentally retarded. Thus, the court found that he was not mentally retarded.
However, Mr. Hall and his defense attorneys specifically argue that the IQ cut-off score of 70, used by Florida to assess mental retardation, does not include clinical considerations that are necessary in deciding whether or not somebody is mentally retarded. To this end, the legal team says that Florida’s IQ cut-off score violates Atkins and is thus unconstitutional, making his execution unconstitutional as well.
Clearly, as our criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert know, the ruling in Hall v. Florida, which will clarify the judgments made in Atkins v. Virginia, will have a powerful impact on the criminal justice system not only in Florida, but around the country. Determining whether or not somebody is eligible for the death penalty should involve a deep considerations; it should not solely be based upon a number on a piece of paper, one that does not adequately account for all relevant issues.
The death penalty exists in Florida for the purpose of punishing people who have committed heinous crimes and to prevent other potential criminals from committing similar crimes. The fact is, however, that as a society we must dedicate time and energy into ensuring that we do not put to death people who are incapable of understanding their own actions — including and especially mentally retarded individuals.
For more information on this case, please visit the Legal Information Institute’s discussion of the case by clicking here.