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Florida’s IQ Exam Fails Test Of Justice

Memo Pad National News

Florida’s IQ Exam Fails Test Of Justice


For 35 years, Florida has been trying to execute Freddie Lee Hall, who is mentally disabled and has been his whole life.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the state’s solicitor general argue that the execution should go forward because Hall scored too high on IQ tests to be spared from the death penalty.

The cutoff in Florida is 70 points. Hall’s lowest score was 71.

There’s not a credible expert in the field of learning disabilities who doesn’t acknowledge a margin of error in IQ testing, but Florida is one of nine states that set a rigid numerical bar.

The result is a morbid lottery that once again lays bare the gross malfunction of capital punishment laws.

It’s indisputable that Hall participated in terrible crimes. In 1978, he and a man named Mack Ruffin abducted a pregnant woman named Karol Hurst from the parking lot of a Pantry Pride in Leesburg, FL. She was raped, beaten and then shot to death.

Afterward, Hall and Ruffin took Hurst’s car to a convenience store they intended to rob. There they scuffled with a sheriff’s deputy, who was also fatally shot.

Both Hall and Ruffin were sentenced to die for Hurst’s murder. They were also convicted in the deputy’s death, though the charge against Hall was later reduced to second-degree murder.

Twenty-four years ago, Hall won a motion for a new sentencing hearing in the Hurst case. Numerous psychiatric experts testified about his extremely low IQ scores and severe mental deficiencies. As early as elementary school, Hall’s teachers had repeatedly categorized him as “mentally retarded.”

The trial court that resentenced Hall agreed that he had “been mentally retarded his whole life,” was brutally tortured as a child and suffered from organic brain damage.

At that time, it wasn’t enough to save him from Death Row. By an 8-4 margin, a jury reinstated his original sentence. Since then the law of the land has changed.

In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to execute mentally retarded persons, saying that IQ scores below “approximately 70” showed serious intellectual disability. Individual states were left to hammer out details of the exemption.

Several of the Supreme Court justices last week questioned why Florida lawmakers imposed an arbitrary IQ threshold of 70 when most psychiatrists recognize margins of error spanning five points or more.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer proposed that trial courts require clinical experts to explain IQ parameters to the judge or jurors who were deciding if a defendant was intellectually disabled.

Asked Breyer, “What’s so terrible about doing it?”

“What is so terrible about doing it,” replied Florida solicitor general Allen Winsor, “is you end up increasing the number of people who would be eligible for a mental-retardation finding.”

God forbid.

Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen is an award-winning journalist, commentator, and novelist. Hiaasen has worked for the Miami Herald since 1976, and his writing focuses on environmental and corruption issues in his home state of Florida.

His latest book is Skink—No Surrender (2014).

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  1. Dominick Vila March 11, 2014

    The death penalty, an act of revenge that is condoned, planned, and executed by society is the ultimate manifestation of brutality and violence. Those found guilty of heinous crimes should spend the rest of their lives in jail, either doing hard labor or in solitary confinement. A tooth for a tooth makes those who pretend to act on the side of justice just as guilty as the ones they execute. A cursory review of the Bible, the Ten Commandments, and the example established by prophets such as Christ is in order.

    1. CPAinNewYork March 12, 2014

      You’re wrong on this one. The death penalty enables us to get rid of the vicious garbage that commits homicides. Whether they’re truly vicious or just weak minded, it doesn’t matter. Hammurabi had it right.

  2. disqus_ivSI3ByGmh March 11, 2014

    Even though I am one of the loudest liberals on this blog, I do believe there are some cases that warrant the Death Penalty. However, I also believe that certain individuals, because of their circumstances should be excluded from that penalty. Freddy Lee Hall is one of those individuals. Stephen Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevski of CT are not. Hall was easily led to do what he did. Hayes and Komisarjevski made their own conscious choices.

    1. Michael Ross March 11, 2014

      These are my sentiments. I reserve the death penalty for instances only when two requirements have been met:

      #1: The perpetrator can be confirmed 100% to be guilty (caught on camera, over a dozen witnesses, etc.).
      #2: The perpetrator continues to be a danger to prison staff and inmates.

      I only consider it more humane to execute someone than to keep others locked up with someone liable to murder them.

      This, on the other hand, can only be attributed to nimrod politics. Whenever liberals insist that someone shouldn’t be put to death, nine times out of ten, that will just make the opposition even more determined to execute him because they want to boast that they’re tough on crime.

      But like Hiaasen already noted: They granted mercy to the one who wasn’t mentally retarded. If they can be merciful to the guy who clearly DID know better, they can give it to his low-IQ accomplice as well.

      1. disqus_ivSI3ByGmh March 11, 2014

        Michael, Florida appears to be a fairly vindictive State. A number of years ago a close friend of mine was found guilty of 1st Degree murder down there. Here is the rub. He thought he was hired to negotiate a settlement between parties. The guy who hired him was actually hired to put a hit on one of the principals. That guy turned state’s evidence for total immunity from prosecution. So, even though my friend should have only been accused of accessory after the fact, due to the arcane system known as Florida Criminal Justice, he was charged with the same level of crime as the guy who contracted the killer. And this was even after the actual killer admitted that my friend was not involved with the planning or the murder, but was “brought along for the ride”! Gotta love Florida’s (lack of) Justice System.
        Then, don’t forget. They also have their alternative Death Penalty program called “Stand your Ground”!

      2. plc97477 March 12, 2014

        I would like to add one more requirement (3) person can never be allowed around society again because there are too many cases where people have been released on accident.

        1. CPAinNewYork March 12, 2014

          If we execute the murderers, we don’t have to worry about their being released back into society.

      3. CPAinNewYork March 12, 2014

        What pseudo-intellectual crap! If a piece of garbage commits murder, he or she should pay the ultimate price. Period.

        And what is it with your talk about “humane” executions? Did the murderers act “humanely” when they killed their victims? No! So, why should they receive “humane” executions? Personally, I favor public hangings.

  3. docb March 11, 2014

    Cruel and unusual punishment brought to you by the low information faux ‘christian’ repubs as usual!

    1. CPAinNewYork March 12, 2014

      You are an idiot.

  4. dpaano March 11, 2014

    The State of Florida had a serious problem…..but this is only ONE of them!

    1. old_blu March 11, 2014


  5. Daniel Jones March 11, 2014

    The bottom line here is that they intend to be hard on the man that can’t be presentable. They also want to look tough on crime, so they’re gonna kill him.

    This is a sick, dysfunctional penal/legal system that contradicts itself even at the highest levels — https://www.nationalmemo.com/adegbiles-denied-confirmation-affront-principles/ ring any bells? –so this is just business as usual, I’m afraid.

    1. CPAinNewYork March 12, 2014

      Daniel, you’re a good example of the pseudo-intellectual thinking that seems to permeate the liberal community.

  6. John Kenner March 13, 2014

    As the amount of knowledge grows with civilization’s advance, the smaller the fraction of knowledge that our own mind can absorb and the more relatively ignorant each of us becomes.


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