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Florida Supreme Court Reverses Yet Another Decision, This Time Opening Door to Mentally Disabled Being Executed


In late May, the Florida Supreme Court reversed yet another one of its previous decisions; this time involving capital punishment and intellectual disabilities, opening the door to allowing defendants with mental disabilities who were previously sentenced to death under an unconstitutional state law to still be executed even though the US Supreme Court ruled that it violates the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution. Specifically, the court had previously decided that a defendant who was sentenced to death and who scored a 72 on an IQ test should have the opportunity to demonstrate that he had an intellectual disability at a subsequent evidentiary hearing because he had been sentenced under a state law that the US Supreme Court then decided was unconstitutional. However, in late May, the new conservative majority on the Florida court spontaneously decided – without the state even making the request – to reverse the decision, acting more as a legislative versus judicial branch in doing so.

The decision is the latest in the court’s four extreme decisions reversing its own prior precedent and significantly affecting criminal defendants’ rights in doing so; in several cases, also directly contradicting decisions handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court.


In 2002, the US Supreme Court ruled that states cannot execute individuals with mental deficiencies because it is a violation of the Eighth Amendment (and its prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment) to do so. In an effort to get around this decision, Florida passed a law dictating that all defendants who score above a score of 70 on an IQ test cannot be found to possess a mental deficiency or intellectual disability. However, because this cut off is contrary to all scientific evidence about what constitutes an intellectual disability, in 2014, the US Supreme Court struck it down, ruling that condemned individuals in Florida with IQ scores up to 75 could challenge a death sentence.

New Conservative Majority Reverses Previous Decision Granting Defendant Evidentiary Hearing Based On US Supreme Court Finding Law That Convicted Him To Be Unconstitutional

As a result of the US Supreme Court’s decision, In 2016, one Florida defendant who was sentenced to death after scoring a 72 on his IQ test prior to the Court’s decision requested that its decision be retroactively applied to his case so that he could demonstrate that he has an intellectual disability at a subsequent evidentiary hearing. The Florida Supreme Court granted his request in 2016, but the new conservative majority then reversed the decision in late May, reasoning that “society-at-large and the State all have a weighty interest in not having [a] death sentence set aside” and in finding that the US Supreme Court’s decision does not apply retroactively.

Court Has Reversed Four Decisions Just Within The Year, Several Affecting State’s Death Penalty Jurisprudence

This is one of several startling decisions involving the court reversing its own previous precedent, including its decision earlier in the year in ruling that unanimous jury recommendations are not required for capital punishment, as well as another that backtracked on allowing certain juveniles with decades old convictions to be eligible for new sentencing hearings, and in ending an evidentiary standard that protected defendants who were convicted entirely based on circumstantial evidence, eliminating yet another reasonable safeguard in the state’s death penalty jurisprudence and criminal law. In doing so, the majority also put forth a new (and arguably minimal) standard In circumstantial evidence cases: “Whether the state presented competent substantial evidence to support the verdict.”

Who Will Ultimately Be Affected

With the case at hand, in addition to the fact that the court’s new decision completely ignores the fact that precedent requires retroactive application, it is extremely disturbing that the court decided to overturn precedent that no party asked it to; i.e. essentially seeking out and repealing a decision that it disliked. And as a result this bizarre action that may in fact be unconstitutional, Florida defendants who were previously condemned under an unconstitutional law cannot now seek new sentencing hearings.

If You Are Charged with A Crime in Florida, It Is Imperative That You Work with an Attorney Who Can Protect You

Stare decisis completely abandoned, people who have already been granted relief by the Florida Supreme Court are now being deprived of that relief.

If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Florida, it is now more important than ever that you work with experienced and effective defense counsel so that you do not become a victim of a judiciary that believes in bending the law, regardless of time-honored precedent. Contact a West Palm Beach criminal lawyer at the office of William Wallshein, P.A. today to schedule a free consultation and find out more about our legal defense services.







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