Disabled Man’s Death Sentence Overturned

     TALLAHASSEE (CN) — A Florida man’s death sentence was vacated Thursday after the state supreme court found him intellectually disabled, following a ruling from the nation’s highest court.
     The decision comes more than two years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the state’s focus on IQ scores “creates an unacceptable risk” that mentally disabled criminals will be executed.
     Freddie Lee Hall was convicted in 1981 for the murder of Karol Hurst, a pregnant, 21-year-old newlywed. He was sentenced to death in 1982.
     Although the trial court found him mentally retarded, the Supreme Court of Florida ruled that he was competent to stand trial, basing its decision on several IQ tests, scored at 73, 80 and 71.
     Florida law requires an IQ score of 70 or below to establish intellectual disability, and Hall was barred from presenting any additional evidence of mental deficiencies.
     In 2014, the Supreme Court deemed the law unconstitutional in a 5-4 decision, and determined that “no legitimate penological purpose is served by executing a person with intellectual disability.”
     Hall presented additional evidence in 2009, including testimony from Dr. Gregory Prichard, who determined Hall met the clinical definition of an intellectually disabled person.
     The state did not refute Dr. Prichard’s testimony, but only claimed that his approach was “not relevant to this proceeding” because it did not focus solely on Hall’s “adaptive functioning during his … incarceration.”
     The Florida Supreme Court said Thursday that “to find that Dr. Prichard failed to adequately determine Hall’s adaptive functioning because he failed to speak to corrections officers ignores the depth and breadth of Dr. Prichard’s evaluation and—worse—ignores that Dr. Prichard had access to DOC records that also considered Hall to lack the skills necessary to adequately cope with the more complex factors in his environment.”
     “The United States Supreme Court was clear that this state is not free ‘to define intellectual disability as [it] wishe[s],’ and the unrefuted evidence in this case has consistently demonstrated that Hall meets the clinical and statutory definition of intellectual disability” the unsigned ruling states. “The record evidence in this case overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that ‘Hall has been [intellectually disabled] his entire life.'”
     The state high court vacated Hall’s death sentence and remanded with instructions to enter a life sentence.
     Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles T. Canady was the only justice to dissent from the majority’s opinion.
     Canady explained that he would recommend a new evidentiary hearing “in which Hall and the state would have an opportunity to litigate this intellectual disability claim under the standard that has now been articulated by the Supreme Court.”
     “The proffered evidence was not subjected to adversarial testing, and its credibility was not evaluated by the trier of fact,” Canady wrote. “The majority thus errs by relying on proffered evidence to support its conclusion that Hall has presented sufficient evidence to establish that he is intellectually disabled. It is a cardinal error for an appellate court to step outside its proper role and make findings of fact based on a proffer.”

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