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intellectual disability

Supreme Court Bars Texas from Using Outdated Medical Execution Standards

By Peek & Toland on August 4, 2017

The U.S. Supreme Court has derailed another Texas execution. In a recent ruling, the justices said the state could no longer used outdated medical execution standards in cases where intellectual disability is a factor in death row cases.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of an inmate on Texas’ death row. The case of Bobby Moore was sent back to the appeals court. The ruling was important because it invalidated the method used by Texas of determining whether an inmate is intellectually disabled and not eligible for execution.

The high court’s ruling in March means a new hearing for Moore who was due to be executed last year. The 57-year-old has languished on death row for more than 36 years.

Justices opposed medical execution standards in Texas

Medical execution standards in Texas are criticized by U.S. Supreme Court

In a 5-3 ruling in the case of Moore v Texas, the justices said the refusal of Texas to use updated medical standards and its reliance on nonclinical factors in death row hearings violates the Eighth Amendment. The Eight Amendment bars cruel and unusual punishment.

The Texas Tribune reported Moore from Harris County was tried and convicted of capital murder and received a death sentence in July 1980. He entered a supermarket in Houston with two other men and shot and killed a 73-year-old clerk.

Medical standards used to decide on intellectual disability were central to the case.

Three years ago in 2014, a Texas state court cited current medical standards to rule Moore was intellectually disabled and could not be executed.

These standards consider deficits in adaptive and intellectual functioning. Moore exhibited symptoms of an intellectual disability in his childhood. We noted how at the age of 13, Moore was unable to understand the days of the week, the months of the year and the seasons.

However, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overruled the state court’s decision. It said the lower court made a mistake in using current medical execution standards as opposed to the state’s test.

The Tribune report noted the Texas test is called the Briseno standard. It was established by the Court of Criminal Appeals in 2004. Two years earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing people with intellectual disabilities was unconstitutional. The Briseno standard used a medical definition from 1992. This stated intellectual and adaptive functioning must be “related.”

In other words, Moore’s low level of reasoning could be traced to a different factor like a traumatic childhood.

The State of Texas used other so-called Briseno factors to draw up its medical execution standards. The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Moore did not have a legal disability that would save him from a lethal injection.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion at the U.S. Supreme Court. She blamed Texas for using up-to-date medical standards in other criminal cases, but not when the death penalty is being considered. She said:

“Texas cannot satisfactorily explain why it applies current medical standards for diagnosing intellectual disability in other contexts, yet clings to superseded standards when an individual’s life is at stake.”

The case of Bobby Moore highlights how Texas often takes a different approach to the rest of the country on criminal justice matters. In some case, its approach is open to a legal challenge.

If you have been charged with a serious criminal offense in Texas, it’s vital to get experienced legal representation. Contact our criminal defense lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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Does the Death Penalty Apply to People with Disabilities? Supreme Court to Decide Texas Case

By Peek & Toland on May 3, 2017

The U.S. Supreme Court has been considering the impact of the death penalty on the disabled at a time when the future of the ultimate sanction is in question.

An article in Baptist Press noted how the nation’s highest court is mulling the case of Bobby James Moore, a man with mental disabilities who received the death penalty for a murder he committed in 1980 at store in Houston, Texas.

His attorneys are arguing he cannot be executed because he is intellectually disabled and the execution of people with disabilities is contrary to a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. His case was heard at the end of November.

In the case of Atkins v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court reached an important stance on the issues of the execution of inmates with intellectual disabilities.

The justices said executing an inmate with intellectual disability is in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unjust punishments.”

U.S. Supreme Court to address disabilities and the death penalty

Does the death penalty apply to people with mental disabilities”

However, the court left it up to individual states to define mental disability.

During oral arguments in November, Moore’s legal team cast Texas as out of step with the rest of the country. They said the state departs from current clinical standards to diagnose intellectual disability. That definition is said to date back to 1992.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals didn’t buy the argument. The judges said Moore showed enough mental acumen to suggest he was not sufficiently intellectually disabled to be exempt from capital punishment.

Both sides agreed he had a harrowing childhood. He was beaten by his father and kicked out of home at the age of at 14.

Depending on the decision, the U.S. Supreme Court could further undermine the death penalty.

Already executions are down across the country, based on a variety of factors.

The Texas Standard noted public support is falling for executions. In the late 1990s, the Pew Research Center noted support for the ultimate sanction was 78 percent.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, alluded to a poll last year that showed support was at a mere 49 percent.  He highlighted a recent poll taken in Houston that showed only 27 percent of respondents thought the death penalty was an appropriate response for murder.

Outside of Los Angeles, Harris County has produced more death sentences than anywhere else in the country.

If you have been charged with murder in Texas, you will face a very serious penalty and may end up on death row. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys provide vigorous representation for a murder charge. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.

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