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March 28, 2017

Ruling 5-3, SCOTUS rejects Texas effort to limit definition of intellectual disability for death penalty application

The Supreme Court this morning handed down an opinion in Moore v. Texas, No. 15-797 (S. Ct. March 28, 2017) (available here), in favor of a capital defendant.  Because I am on the road, I will not be able to provide context for this ruling until later today.  Short story seems to be that the more liberal Justices were not impressed by the more conservative standard Texas courts have used to apply the Atkins and Hall precedents concerning Eighth Amendment limits on executing the intellectually disabled.

UPDATE:  Now with a few minutes at a desktop, I can quote Justice Ginsburg's opinion for the Court:

Bobby James Moore fatally shot a store clerk during a botched robbery.  He was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. Moore challenged his death sentence on the ground that he was intellectually disabled and therefore exempt from execution.  A state habeas court made detailed factfindings and determined that, under this Court’s decisions in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), and Hall v. Florida, 572 U.S. ___ (2014), Moore qualified as intellectually disabled. For that reason, the court concluded, Moore’s death sentence violated the Eighth Amendment’s proscription of “cruel and unusual punishments.”  The habeas court therefore recommended that Moore be granted relief.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) declined to adopt the judgment recommended by the state habeas court. In the CCA’s view, the habeas court erroneously employed intellectual-disability guides currently used in the medical community rather than the 1992 guides adopted by the CCA in Ex parte Briseno, 135 S.W.3d 1 (2004).  See Ex parte Moore, 470 S.W.3d 481, 486–487 (2015).  The appeals court further determined that the evidentiary factors announced in Briseno “weigh[ed] heavily” against upsetting Moore’s death sentence. 470 S.W.3d at 526.

We vacate the CCA’s judgment.  As we instructed in Hall, adjudications of intellectual disability should be “informed by the views of medical experts.” 572 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 19); see id., at ___ (slip op., at 7).  That instruction cannot sensibly be read to give courts leave to diminish the force of the medical community’s consensus.  Moreover, the several factors Briseno set out as indicators of intellectual disability are an invention of the CCA untied to any acknowledged source.  Not aligned with the medical community’s information, and drawing no strength from our precedent, the Briseno factors “creat[e] an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed,” 572 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 1).  Accordingly, they may not be used, as the CCA used them, to restrict qualification of an individual as intellectually disabled.

March 28, 2017 at 10:27 AM | Permalink


“informed by the views of medical experts.” 572 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 19); see id., at ___ (slip op., at 7). That instruction cannot sensibly be read to give courts leave to diminish the force of the medical community’s consensus.

Of course it can. The word "informed" and the word "dictate" are two separate words with two separate meanings. If the court meant dictate it should have said dictate rather than inform, originally, thus avoiding all this needless litigation.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 28, 2017 1:32:14 PM

The Supreme Court is completely out of control. Know nothing. Biased. Pro-criminal. Uninformed. They do not know what they are talking about.

The Congress should impeach the Justices for their decisions, and not for any collateral corruption.

I do not see a point to rebutting the Justices, since the amoral crowd here is licking its chops at more hearings for vicious murderers.

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 28, 2017 6:37:01 PM

Look, if you don't like the United States Constitution, then just advocate for amending it, or call for a convention. You're welcome.

Posted by: MarK M. | Mar 28, 2017 10:12:52 PM

Mark. I want the Justices to begin to obey the present Article I Section 1. It gives lawmaking power to the Congress. It is you, the lawyer profession, the stupidest group of human beings in our country, that refuses to learn to read its plain, high school level English. Please, parse the first word, all. It is three letters long. Look up its meaning in the dictionary.

Section 1.

All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

The Justices, including all dissenters, in their participating in the insurrection against the current constitution, justify impeachment of the entire Court. The insurrection fully justifies their arrests, their trials, and their sentencing for internal treason. To deter.

Fear not Trump, a weak leader. Fear the guy after Trump, once the public realizes Trump was weak.

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 29, 2017 12:11:47 AM

Wrong answer.

Posted by: MarK M. | Mar 29, 2017 8:37:45 AM

I cite the current constitution. You reply with an ipse dixit.

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 29, 2017 9:01:24 AM

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is batted down for going rogue and pretty blatantly defying SCOTUS once again.

Honestly, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ought to just be put under receivership and shut down entirely for the travesties of justice it so routinely mets out.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Mar 29, 2017 7:25:51 PM

O. It is the Supreme Court that is totally out of control and lawless. Any state court deferring to its decision should be considered for impeachment. If federal agents show up to enforce the sicko decisions of the out of control Supreme Court, taser them. Expel them from the state.

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 29, 2017 9:55:30 PM

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