Death-row inmate files Supreme Court challenge to Florida's use of prisoners' IQ scores
A view of the U.S. Supreme Court seen from the top of the U.S. Capitol dome (AFP)

A Florida inmate challenged the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday arguing that he is intellectually disabled and therefore should not be executed, highlighting the issue of the mentally ill on death row.

Freddie Lee Hall, 68, has spent 35 years on death row for the rape and murder of a pregnant woman and is likely to be executed if his appeal fails. A decision is expected in late June.

In June 2002, the U.S. top court barred states from executing intellectually disabled inmates, but until now left what determined that to the states themselves. In Florida, a person with an IQ of 70 or more is deemed criminally competent to be executed.

Hall has an IQ of 71, but was declared "mentally retarded" since childhood.

Part of his appeal rests on the fact that he falls within a five-percent margin of error cited by psychiatrists and experts when assessing IQ scores, and that an IQ test alone is not enough to judge whether someone is "mentally retarded" or not.

Seth Waxman, a lawyer for Hall, said the court could not ignore that margin of error, and thus "makes the imposition of the death penalty under that condition unconstitutional."

Allen Windsor, a lawyer representing Florida, said: "Everybody has agreed on 70 for many decades... we have an adversarial process, we have a burden of proof."

But Judge Anthony Kennedy responded: "Your (legislation) prevents us to know whether or not your IQ score is accurate."

Kennedy also pointed at the 35 years Hall had spent waiting to be executed.

"In Florida, there's an average of 25.9 years on death row. Do you think it's consistent with the purpose of the death penalty?"

In neighboring Georgia, death row inmates need to prove intellectual disability "beyond a reasonable doubt." Warren Hill, who has an IQ of 70, had his application for a stay dismissed in October by the Supreme Court.

Other similar cases include paranoid schizophrenic John Ferguson, who was executed in Florida in August.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]