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April 12, 2011

Tennessee Supreme Court endorses expert testimony concerning IQ of condemned

As explained in this local article, on Monday the "Tennessee Supreme Court ruled ... that lower courts may look at more than IQ numbers in determining whether a death row inmate is intellectually disabled and thus ineligible for execution." Here is more on the ruling:

In ruling on the case of a Memphis man on death row for more than 30 years, the high court said judges also may consider expert witness opinions to determine whether a test score accurately reflects a person’s functional IQ.

“We find that (state law) does not require that raw scores on I.Q. tests be accepted at their face value and that the courts may consider competent expert testimony showing that a test score does not accurately reflect a person’s functional I.Q. or that the raw I.Q. test score is artificially inflated or deflated,” Justice William Koch Jr. wrote in the court’s unanimous opinion....

Under Tennessee law, mental retardation, now termed intellectual disability, means significantly below-average intellectual functioning with a functional intelligence quotient of 70 or below; deficits in adaptive behavior, and the intellectual disability must have been manifested by age 18.

The Supreme Court, however, said the law does not indicate what types of evidence may be considered and said there is no requirement that IQ scores be accepted at their face value.  The court said the lower courts should have considered testimony from two defense psychologists who said Coleman is intellectually disabled.

The full 46-page ruling in Coleman v. Tennessee, No. W2007-02767-SC-R11-PD (Tenn. April 11, 2011), is available at this link.

April 12, 2011 at 08:40 AM | Permalink


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An interesting decision that will cut both ways. In Alabama, courts like to hold that D's with IQ of 59 and have high adaptive functioning are not MR. They don't tend to go the other way: a D with a 75 IQ with low adaptive functioning is also not MR. This ruling seems to balance that out.

Posted by: Ala JD | Apr 12, 2011 1:03:58 PM

Definitely likely to cut both ways... and to increase discretion and disparate outcomes across and within jurisdictions, based on the leanings of the court. More sympathetic judges will be able to declare an obviously impaired/MR person MR even if the scores are in the low 70s (or higher), but courts who are resistant to the whole Atkins regime will be able to declare defendants non-MR regardless of whether every IQ test they ever took was in the 50s/60s.

Posted by: Anon | Apr 14, 2011 12:33:36 PM

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