Intellectual Disability and Death Penalty

White v. Commonwealth, No. 2013-SC-000791-MR, 2016 WL 2604759 (Ky. May 5, 2016)

Kentucky Supreme Court overturns trial court ruling that defendant waived claim that he was not subject to the death penalty due to intellectual disability after defendant had refused to accept evaluation by a state psychiatric center to determine intellectual disability and insisted on state payment for evaluation by a private psychologist.

Background: In 1980, White was convicted by a Powell Circuit Court jury of three counts of capital murder, three counts of first-degree robbery, and one count of burglary. He was sentenced to death for each of the three murders. Less than a month after he was sentenced, White was subjected to a psychological evaluation, which determined that he had an overall IQ score of 81. In 2004, White filed a motion in the Powell Circuit Court, based on Atkins v. Virginia, to set aside his death sentences on the grounds that he was intellectually disabled. White argued that the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center (KCPC) was incapable of conducting the necessary evaluations to determine his competence for the death penalty, and that the state should instead pay for an independent evaluation by an intellectual disability expert selected by White. Over the next several years, several orders for evaluation by the trial court and subsequent writs of prohibition by both White and the Commonwealth were entered. The trial court ultimately rejected White’s demand for an independent evaluation and ordered an evaluation by the KCPC. White refused to cooperate with the evaluation by the KCPC, which the trial court ruled was a waiver of his intellectual disability claim.

Holding: On appeal, the Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that White is not entitled to public funds for an expert of his choosing. The court reversed the trial court’s judgment that White waived his right to an intellectual disability claim by refusing an evaluation by the KCPC.

Notable Points:

An evaluation by the KCPC does not violate a defendant’s Fifth Amendment right to remain silent during post-conviction proceedings: The court ruled that White’s Fifth Amendment rights would be minimally affected, if at all, by an evaluation by the KCPC. White was already tried and convicted of three murders; therefore, any inquiry by the mental health professionals into these crimes would not implicate the right.

Kentucky law barring executions of only those individuals with an IQ score of 70 or less was invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Hall v. Florida, 134 S. Ct. 1986 (2014): The Kentucky Supreme Court noted that the Hall decision “effectively invalidated our arbitrary intelligence score standard for evaluating” intellectual disability.

Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 2