Death Penalty and Intellectual Disability

Thompson v. State, 41 Fla. L. Weekly 510 (2016)

Florida Supreme Court reaffirms the rejection of a bright-line IQ cutoff of 70 in determining eligibility for the death penalty and holds it would be a manifest injustice not to give a defendant the benefit of the three-pronged test set forth in the Supreme Court’s decision in Hall.

Background: William Lee Thompson was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for a 1976 murder committed when Thompson was 24 years old. His sentence became final in 1993. Thompson filed numerous post-conviction motions claiming he is ineligible for the death penalty because of intellectual disability. Thompson’s IQ was measured by multiple experts with estimates ranging from 71–88. Thompson’s most recent post-Hall motion was denied by the circuit court because his IQ scores were generally over 80 and Hall only required courts to consider IQ scores 75 and below.

Holding: The Florida Supreme Court reversed the circuit court and remanded the case for a new evidentiary hearing regarding Thompson’s intellectual disability. In reaching its decision, the Florida Supreme Court rejected a bright-line IQ cutoff for intellectual disability and directed lower courts to apply all three prongs of the Hall test rather than relying on any one prong as dispositive.

Notable Point:

Retroactive Effect of Hall: In a short dissent two justices reject the idea that Hall should apply retroactively and would therefore have denied Thompson relief.

Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 4