U.S. Supreme Court

ABA brief says Texas uses unconstitutional standards to assess mental disability in capital cases

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The ABA is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down Texas’ standards for determining whether an inmate has a mental disability that makes him ineligible for the death penalty.

The ABA filed an amicus brief (PDF) on Aug. 4 that asserts that the Texas standards violate the Eighth Amendment, as interpreted by Supreme Court precedent, according to a press release.

An ABA assessment of death penalty procedures in 12 states that have carried out a majority of the nation’s executions found that Texas does not determine intellectual disability according to clinical standards. Texas “is an outlier among the states” in adopting a system that “deliberately excludes most people with intellectual disabilities,” according to the ABA brief.

The Texas standards include whether those who knew the defendant as a child believed him to be mentally retarded, whether the defendant can respond coherently to a question, whether he can effectively lie, and whether his crime required planning. “These factors are scientifically bankrupt,” the ABA brief says. The Texas standards “rely on and reflect lay stereotypes of intellectual disability that are not used in clinical assessments and that often bear no relation to the actual abilities and behavior of individuals with intellectual disability.”

The ABA filed the brief in the case of Bobby James Moore, who was first sentenced to death in 1980 for the murder of a Houston grocery store employee during an armed robbery. The case is Moore v. Texas.

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