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Death Penalty Series: Supreme Court Rules Intellectually Disabled Texas Inmate Cannot Be Executed

February 27, 2019

The ruling came after a disagreement between a local prosecutor’s office and the state attorney general’s office

Death Penalty Series: Supreme Court Rules Intellectually Disabled Texas Inmate Cannot Be Executed

In 1980, Bobby James Moore shot 72 year old Houston grocery store clerk James McCarble during a robbery. He was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death. He has been on death row for 39 years, awaiting execution. In February, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the 59 year old Moore cannot be executed because he is intellectually disabled. His case will be sent back to a judge in Houston, who will sentence him to life in prison.

In 2002, the Supreme Court prohibited execution of people who are intellectually disabled. Under the ruling that outlawed the execution of people with mental disabilities, the Supreme Court gave some discretion to states to determine whether people were intellectually disabled. Moore’s case first came before the Supreme Court in 2017, when it ruled that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had used outdated standards to find that Moore was not intellectually disabled. On re-hearing, the court ruled again that Moore was not mentally disabled.

The case is unique because it involves a disagreement between the local prosecutor — the Harris County District Attorney’s Office — and the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Prosecutors at the local level agreed with Moore’s attorneys that he should be spared the death penalty because he is intellectually disabled. The Texas Attorney General’s Office then asked to take over the case in order to carry out the execution.

Each state uses different criteria to determine intellectual disability. In Texas, IQ scores, an inmate’s ability to interact with others and care for himself or herself, and whether evidence of either of these deficiencies appeared before age 18 are the factors used to determine intellectual disability. These three criteria were created by the American Association of Mental Retardation, or AAMR.

In 2004, the Texas appeals court created additional factors to add to the list, which it used to determine that Moore was not intellectually disabled. The Supreme Court criticized the court for using these factors, as they were no grounded in prevailing medical practice and invited stereotypes to guide assessment. The Supreme Court also noted that the Texas appeals court ignored evidence of Moore’s disabilities.

In California, the death sentence of a man was overturned in May 2018 after the California Supreme Court determined that he is intellectually disabled. Robert Lewis, Jr. was convicted of murder and robbery in 1983. According to a criminal defense lawyer Santa Ana, CA, the Court found substantial evidence that Lewis has a low IQ and that he is illiterate. The decision was based on the United States Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling on executing prisoners with intellectual disabilities.

The death penalty is a difficult subject for many Californians. Whether you support or oppose the death penalty, most people can agree that it should only be imposed when the person is able to understand the consequences of his or her actions. Decisions like the one recently made by the United States Supreme Court and the 2018 decision by the California Supreme Court help to ensure that the death penalty is applied more equitably.

If you have been charged with a capital offense or any other crime, the Chambers Law Firm can help. As a skilled criminal defense lawyer Santa Ana, CA, attorney Dan E. Chambers has significant experience representing clients on a range of criminal matters. Contact our office today at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com to schedule a free initial consultation.

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