Facts and lower court procedural disposition of the case
Defendant Freddie Lee Hall filed a motion to declare Florida Statute 921.137 (Florida Statute) as contrary to Atkins v. Virginia (2002) and, thus, unconstitutional. Hall, convicted in 1981 for the murder of Karol Hurst, was initially sentenced to death in September 1982. For three years, he fought his sentence, filing “a motion to vacate, a petition for writ of habeas corpus and an application for a stay of execution, all of which were denied” . In 1986, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard his appeal and reversed part of the lower court’s ruling, a decision granted when the court found Hall “entitled to a hearing on the issues of his absence from the courtroom and whether he deliberately bypassed his ineffective assistance of counsel claim” .
Lower courts gave him no reprieve, though, and Hall petitioned the Supreme Court for relief based on Hitchcock v. Dugger (1987), a case in which the Court found that “all mitigating factors, not just statutory mitigation, should be considered by the judge and jury” . The Court did not find Hall to have an adequate claim, and the governor of Florida signed Hall’s second death warrant in September 1988. When Hall filed his second claim to the Court, again claiming procedural error under Hitchcock, it this time determined that an error had occurred and granted him a new sentencing proceeding. At the 1993 trial, the court found Hall mentally retarded yet competent enough to stand trial; it again sentenced him to death.
In 2002, the Court decided Atkins and opened the door for defendants to challenge their sentence using Atkins claims. Hall filed such a motion in 2004, but the evidentiary hearing to reexamine the mental retardation determination was not held until December 2009. At the hearing, presented doctor testimony, family testimony, and the results of three IQ tests. The first two IQ test results of 73 and 80 came from an early intelligence quotient (IQ) test, and the third score of 71 came from an updated test, the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-III). The court denied relief to Hall, claiming he did not meet the first prong of the three-prong mental retardation test provided by Florida Statute . Hall currently appeals this court’s rejection.
Does the Florida procedure for determining the mental retardation of defendants in capital cases violates Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court decision proclaiming the execution of mentally retarded criminals unconstitutional?
Decision and argument of the Court
The Florida Statute in question violates Atkins and necessarily the Eight Amendment because it fails to provide an “appropriate [way] to enforce the constitutional restrict” on the death penalty as laid out in Atkins. The remainder of the essay will consider the Court’s prior decisions of the constitutionality of capital punishment for mentally retarded individuals, the framework it established in its Atkins...