High court backs death row in­mate

Texas court failed to heed ex­perts on in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Chuck Lin­dell clin­dell@states­man.com

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in fa­vor of Texas death row in­mate Bobby James Moore on Tuesday, say­ing the state’s high­est crim­i­nal court failed to heed med­i­cal ex­perts’ chang­ing views about how best to mea­sure in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties when it cer­ti­fied him as el­i­gi­ble for ex­e­cu­tion.

By ig­nor­ing ad­vances in sci­ence, the Texas Court of Crim­i­nal Ap­peals cre­ated “an un­ac­cept­able risk that per­sons with in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity will be ex­e­cuted,” the high court said in a 5-3 rul­ing.

The Supreme Court found two major faults with the Texas ap­proach.

First, the Texas court im­prop­erly re­lied on di­ag­nos­tic stan­dards de­vel­oped in 1992, in­stead of still-cur­rent stan­dards that were re­vised in 2010, the Supreme Court said.

More­over, in­stead of re­ly­ing on the views of med­i­cal ex­perts, the Texas court in­tro­duced sev­eral non­sci­en­tific fac­tors for lower courts to weigh — such as de­ter­min­ing if the de­fen­dant can lie ef­fec­tively, shows lead­er­ship or is eas­ily led, and is im­pul­sive or

makes plans and fol­lows through.

The fac­tors, Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg wrote for the ma­jor­ity, “are an in­ven­tion of the (Texas court) un­tied to any ac­knowl­edged source.”

Tuesday’s rul­ing was the sec­ond vic­tory for a Texas death row in­mate this court term.

In Fe­bru­ary, the Supreme Court or­dered a new sen­tenc­ing trial for Duane Buck be­cause a psy­chol­o­gist tes­ti­fied dur­ing his trial that black de­fen­dants were gen­er­ally more dan­ger­ous than white ones. In­tro­duc­ing that con­cept into a death penalty case in­volv­ing Buck, a black man, was “a par­tic­u­larly nox­ious strain of ra­cial prej­u­dice,” the court said in a 6-2 rul­ing.

Moore’s lawyer, Cliff Sloan, praised Tuesday’s rul­ing for mak­ing it clear that cur­rent med­i­cal stan­dards must be used to de­ter­mine whether a death row in­mate is in­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­abled and there­fore in­el­i­gi­ble for the death penalty.

“The Supreme Court has sen­si­bly di­rected Texas courts to be in­formed by the med­i­cal com­mu­nity’s cur­rent di­ag­nos­tic frame­work be­fore im­pos­ing our

Moore, 57, was sen­tenced to death for the 1980 shoot­ing of a Hous­ton store clerk in a bun­gled rob­bery with two other men.

so­ci­ety’s gravest sen­tence,” Sloan said.

Writ­ing in a dis­sent joined by Jus­tices Sa­muel Al­ito and Clarence Thomas, Chief Jus­tice John Roberts agreed that the Texas court erred by us­ing the un­sci­en­tific stan­dards to weigh Moore’s adap­tive be­hav­ior — one fac­tor in mea­sur­ing in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity.

But Roberts added that he would have af­firmed the Texas court’s rul­ing that Moore was el­i­gi­ble for ex­e­cu­tion based on his level of in­tel­lec­tual func­tion­ing.

Moore, 57, was sen­tenced to death for the 1980 shoot­ing of a Hous­ton store clerk in a bun­gled rob­bery with two other men.

Af­ter his lawyers ap­pealed, a state district judge rec­om­mended in 2014 that Moore’s death sen­tence be re­duced to a life sen­tence, find­ing that he was in­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­abled be­cause he had an IQ un­der 71 and had been so­cially pro­moted de­spite fail­ing ev­ery grade un­til he dropped out as a high school fresh­man af­ter fail­ing ev­ery sub­ject.

The Court of Crim­i­nal Ap­peals, how­ever, rejected Moore’s claim, say­ing the lower court used the wrong mea­sures of in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity — an anal­y­sis the Supreme Court rejected Tuesday.

The high court rul­ing va­cated the Texas court’s rul­ing that Moore was el­i­gi­ble for ex­e­cu­tion and re­turned his case to the Court of Crim­i­nal Ap­peals.

Jor­dan Steiker, direc­tor of the Cap­i­tal Pun­ish­ment Cen­ter at the Univer­sity of Texas Law School, said there’s a “good ar­gu­ment” to be made that the Texas court should rat­ify the district judge’s rec­om­men­da­tion “given that the trial court rec­om­mended re­lief un­der pre­vail­ing pro­fes­sional norms.”

“A fair read­ing of the opin­ion sug­gests strongly that Moore is owed re­lief un­der pre­vail­ing clin­i­cal ap­proaches for as­sess­ing in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity,” said Steiker, who helped Moore’s lawyer pre­pare the Supreme Court case.

Bobby James Moore’s case will re­turn to the Court of Crim­i­nal Ap­peals.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE / AP

The Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., wrote in its 5-3 rul­ing that, by ig­nor­ing ad­vances in sci­ence, the Texas Court of Crim­i­nal Ap­peals cre­ated “an un­ac­cept­able risk that per­sons with in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity will be ex­e­cuted.”

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