Death Penalty Affirmed by Florida Supreme Court in Murder Case

In Florida, people convicted of certain crimes may be sentenced to death for those crimes. However, there are some people who are constitutionally protected from the death penalty due to their status or characteristics. For example, the United States Supreme Court has declared it unconstitutional to sentence someone to death if they committed their crimes when they were less than 18 years of age. The laws around violent crimes and sentencing change periodically as federal and state courts clarify their positions. A knowledgeable Florida violent crimes defense attorney can help you understand any potential penalties of the crimes you have been charged with.

Intellectual Disability and the Death Penalty

Another one of the categories of people that cannot be executed are people with intellectual disabilities. This is because they are not seen as having the same decision-making ability as people without these kinds of disabilities, and so the death penalty is considered cruel. Florida amended their death penalty statute in 2003 to include this prohibition. Under the 2003 Florida statutes, a defendant has the burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence that they are intellectually disabled. To do this, they needed to show three things: significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning, with concurrent deficits in adaptive behavior, that manifested before age 18. At the time, Florida used a strict cutoff of an IQ score of 70 to determine what counted as “significantly subaverage” intellectual functioning.

A 2014 United States Supreme Court ruling held that Florida’s death penalty statute was unconstitutional. They found that under the statute as it existed at the time, there was an “unacceptable risk” that someone with an intellectual disability could be executed. The problem that the court had with the law was with the strict cutoff of 70. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the law needed to take into account the “standard error of measurement” (SEM) of IQ tests. Like all standardized testing, there is always a margin for error. There is also something called the “Flynn Effect” which is a theory that says the intelligence of a population increases over time thus necessitating an adjustment of what qualifies as “significantly subaverage.” Therefore, the court cannot use a strict cutoff for IQ tests when it comes to determining who is ineligible for the death penalty.

Current Case

Here, the defendant pleaded guilty to burglary of a dwelling and first-degree felony murder in 1980. He waived his right to a jury trial for the penalty phase and the judge sentenced him to death. Since then he has appealed several times under the theory that he has an intellectual disability. However, his appeals have been denied because he has been unable to prove that he meets the “significantly subaverage” prong of the test. The defendant’s past IQ scores are 79, 77, and 79. However, experts testified that even accounting for the Flynn effect many of his scores would still presumably be accurate, especially as they are similar to each other. The court here also determined that any applicable margins of error would still not be proof of significantly subaverage IQ. Therefore, the court denied his motion and his death penalty sentence stands.

Contact an Experienced Clearwater Violent Crimes Criminal Defense Attorney Today!

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, especially if it is a violent or otherwise serious crime, you should contact an experienced Clearwater violent crimes criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Since the potential penalties are so severe, it is important that you have a knowledgeable attorney experienced with violent crime defense on your side. Our criminal defense attorneys at Hanlon Law Firm have the knowledge and experience to help you. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with our attorneys about your case.

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