Supreme Court rules Texas used outdated medical standards for death row inmate
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The Supreme Court ruled that Bobby Moore, a convicted murderer on death row in Texas, could not be executed.
As reported by ABC News, The 5-3 vote reversed a Texas court’s decision that Moore was not intellectually disabled. A 2002 Supreme Court ruling established that intellectually disabled murderers cannot be executed due to the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
Justice Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion, with Chief Justice Roberts writing the dissent. The case hinged on Texas’s standards for determining a person’s mental state. In 1980, Moore fatally shot a 73 year-old supermarket clerk during a robbery and was sentenced to death.
In 2014, a state court ruled Moore was intellectually disabled and could not be executed, as per legal standards. The decision was overruled by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which applied the standard state test rather than the more current standard the state court had used, as reported by The Texas Tribune
Justice Ginsburg said that Texas is inconsistent, writing “it applies current medical standards for diagnosing intellectual disability in other contexts yet cling to superseded standards when an individual’s life is at stake.” In other words, the state appears to intentionally use outdated tests which are more likely to garner a death row conviction in borderline cases. The Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling said that I.Q. scores beneath “approximately 70” were a likely sign of disability. While Justice Ginsburg wrote Moore’s I.Q. was between 69 and 79, the New York Times reports, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the only reliable scores were 78 and 74.
For the dissenting Justice Roberts, those scores were sufficient. Justice Ginsburg argued that additional measures need to be taken for borderline cases. Moore, she argued, showed a lack of understanding basic knowledge like the days of the week.
The Texas Court of Appeals had ruled that since Moore “demonstrated adaptive strengths” through survival and planning his crime, his behavior showed mental competency. Justice Ginsburg criticised the Texas standards, arguing that no other state applies them.
In the dissent, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that “clinicians, not judges, should determine clinical standards; and judges, not clinicians, should determine the content of the Eighth Amendment.”
According to The Washington Post, after the Supreme Court’s ruling, the case shall return to Texas for further consideration.