By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday threw out a death sentence for a Florida man in a decision that found the state’s method for assessing whether defendants are mentally disabled was unconstitutional.
The court ruled on a 5-4 vote, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing the majority opinion, that death row inmate Freddie Lee Hall should have another chance to show he should not be executed.
Florida had initially determined that convicted murderer Hall was mentally disabled in 1992, but later found him competent after he scored 71 on an IQ test, the minimum under Florida law.
The court found that the Florida process was unlawful under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which bans cruel and unusual punishment.
“Florida’s law contravenes our nation’s commitment to dignity and its duty to teach human decency as the mark of a civilized world,” Kennedy wrote.
The decision, which follows a 2002 ruling in which the high court said the mentally disabled cannot be executed, could also help other inmates in Florida and some other states who are challenging their sentences.
The case is Hall v. Florida, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-10882.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Howard Goller and Dan Grebler)