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Intellectual Disability not Enough to Overturn Death Penalty


When the court charges you with a crime, it means many things. One of those is that the crime you are charged with affects the sentence you are eligible for, if found guilty. Capital murder, for instance, makes the person charged with that crime eligible for the death penalty. However, there are exceptions to every rule.

In Carroll v. State of Alabama, in St. Clair County, the Court of Criminal Appeals considered whether a death penalty sentence was appropriate based on new case law defining “intellectual disability.”

Taurus Carroll was convicted of two counts of capital murder and sentenced to death for each. At trial and on appeal, Carroll argued that he was exempt from the death penalty because he is intellectually disabled. Carroll relied upon a 2002 Supreme Court ruling that held that States needed to develop a method for determining whether capital defendants are intellectually disabled and therefore, exempt from death penalty sentences.

From personal experience, I have represented people that have an IQ in the MR Mentally Retarded range and the case proceeded to a jury. In one case the person was convicted, but the Judge did the right thing and did not send the person to jail due to learning disability. In March 28, 2017 the Supreme Court issued an opinion called Moore v. Texas. This case set forth the criteria for determining if a death-row inmate was exempt from the death penalty based on his intellectual disability. In Moore, the court considered both (1) if the IQ score was 70 or below and (2) adaptive functioning. In light of this case, the Court of Criminal Appeals vacated the decision in Carroll’s case for further consideration.

Looking at the first Moore factor, Carroll’s IQ score ranged from between a 66 to a 76. There was such a wide range, this allowed the court to consider the second Moore factor, which is Carroll’s adaptive functioning. Adaptive functioning refers to how well Carroll behaves and interacts with his environment.

Carroll liked to read books, was a good worker in the prison kitchen, and had obtained his GED. Because this evidence was in conflict with Carroll’s low IQ, the trial court had the power to determine whether or not Carroll was intellectually disabled for the purposes of the death penalty. Based on the evidence, the trial court had enough to find that Carroll is not intellectually disabled and that he is eligible for the death penalty.

This case is an example that the Court has the ability to make the judgment calls in situations that are quite literally life and death. Even though Carroll’s situation is a close call, if the evidence is not overwhelming one way or the other, the Court may look to a lower court and find that those actions were proper.

Having an experienced criminal law attorney on your side can be crucial in bringing out the right evidence for sentencing. If you are involved in a criminal law case, contact INGRAM LAW LLC at (205) 335-2640 for an attorney with the experience and knowledge that can make all the difference.

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