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Supreme Court Strikes Down Florida’s Death Penalty “IQ Standard”

As devised by the United States Constitution, punishment must be determined based on the manner and degree of the crime committed. It is important that what a defendant is ultimately sentenced to fits the offense committed. The basic tenets of the Eighth Amendment’s “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibition is on the forefront of lawmakers minds when deciding whether their state should enforce the death penalty.

Florida’s Death Penalty IQ Standard

In Florida, the issue of the death penalty has once again risen to the public’s awareness. In May, the Supreme Court held that a Florida law, which prohibits defendants who have an IQ of 70 or less from being sentenced the death penalty, has been held unconstitutional. The issue arose with the recent stay of execution of one Florida defendant who was found to have an IQ score of 71, and the Florida Supreme Court being unsure whether drawing the IQ score at 70 was an arbitrary fast and hard rule for the death penalty.

The Florida law under the microscope was at the center of the “cruel and unusual punishment” issue because it brought to light whether the State should enforce absolute limits for sentencing or whether a limit should be evaluated in light of the circumstances. Is there a true difference between a defendant who has an IQ of 70 and a defendant who has an IQ of 71?

Proponents’ Reasoning Behind Florida’s Death Penalty IQ Standard

Defendants of the Florida law argued that the IQ score standard should be maintained for a variety of reasons. First, the IQ score standard was initially established in a preceding case which set the IQ score based on a number of clinical studies, and based on a complex formula created for the purpose of evaluating the relationship between sentencing and intellectual disabilities. The standard “IQ score of 70 or less” has been a long-standing, well-established standard used by nine other states for decades. Defendants also articulate that States, as the venues for the criminal justice system, should be permitted the leeway to implement their own standards.

The Supreme Court’s Ruling

 The Supreme Court held that there was not and that intellectual disability must be evaluated in light of the defendant’s circumstances and the facts surround the case, especially when IQ tests only provide a general, although, narrow evaluation of someone’s intellect. Determining someone’s IQ involves subjective and objective examinations which may be altered by a variety of external factors. When the IQ score will dictate if a man will live or die by the death penalty, any measurement of error can tip the balance.

The Supreme Court’s holding in this case lends itself to an analysis of the criminal justice system currently in place and the sentencing procedures. The setting of hard limits whether by intellect, age, gender, etc. will always have winners and losers: those who make it past the hard limit and those who unluckily fall within the sentencing guidelines.

Criminal Advocacy in Fort Lauderdale

 The issues surrounding “cruel and unusual punishment” are complex and difficult to evaluate. What is one man’s “cruel and unusual punishment” is another man’s “punishment fits the crime.” An experienced criminal defense attorney will ensure to advocate zealously on behalf of his client throughout the proceedings in order to get the fairest verdict possible for his client. If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, please contact Kevin J. Kulik in Fort Lauderdale who will guide you through the process and make sure justice is on your side.

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