Jay Shapiro on Hall v. Florida: The Death Penalty and the Intellectually Disabled Revisited by the Supreme Court

"No legitimate penological purpose is served by executing a person with intellectual disability."
-Justice Kennedy, writing for the Court in Hall v. Florida, [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers].

"[W]hat counts are our society's standards—which is to say, the standards of the American people—not the standards of professional associations, which at best represent the views of a small professional elite."
-Justice Alito, writing for the four dissenting Justices in Hall v. Florida.

In Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers], the Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to execute a person with an intellectual disability. Hall, decided by the Court on May 27, 2014, holds that the Florida capital punishment law, [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers], that defines intellectual disability as requiring a score of 70 or less on an IQ test violates the Eighth, [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers], and Fourteenth Amendments, [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers], of the Constitution.

Like many death penalty cases, that of Freddie Lee Hall took decades to be finally decided by the Supreme Court. It was back in February 1978 that Hall and an accomplice murdered a pregnant newlywed and then killed a sheriff's deputy. Hall was convicted of both murders and sentenced to death on each, but the sentence as to the deputy's murder was later reduced.

In fact, Hall's death sentence for the murder of the newlywed was imposed twice. When he was first sentenced, Florida did not permit intellectual disability to be considered as a mitigating factor. Following the Supreme Court's decision in Hitchcock v. Dugger, 481 U.S. 393 (1987), [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers], which "held that capital defendants must be permitted to present nonstatutory mitigating evidence in death penalty proceedings," Hall was sentenced again.

Jay Shapiro is a partner in the New York office of White and Williams LLP. Jay has more than 30 years experience concentrating his practice in litigation matters. He began his legal career as a prosecutor in the Bronx County District Attorney's Office (1980-1988) and later joined the King's County District Attorney's Office (1990-2002) where he became the Deputy District Attorney in charge of the Rackets Division before going into private practice. Mr. Shapiro has tried more than thirty-five cases in state and federal court. In private practice, he has handled litigation involving insurance fraud, white collar crime and Lanham Act (trademark) violations.

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