On May 27th the Supreme Court decided a landmark case that changes the way the law handles claims of intellectual incapacity (what we used to call mental retardation). Up until recently, many states handled the question like Florida did until it’s method was declared unconstitutional by SCOTUS: if your IQ score was 70 or under, you could argue intellectual incapacity; if your IQ score was 71/+, you could not.

It was a frustrating simplistic outlook on a nuanced and complicated real life issue. The justices displayed understandable skepticism about the reliability of any test that fixes a number score to a complicated issue like intellectual capacity. They did not, however, throw out use of the IQ score alltogether. In Hall v. Florida, the court (Justice Kennedy writing the opinion for the 5-4 court) held that if a defendant claiming intellectual incapacity has an IQ score that falls somewhere between 70-75, he must be allowed to offer additional clinical evidence of intellectual deficit including, most importantly, the inability to learn basic skills and adapt how to react to changing circumstances.

IMO this is a common sense approach. We’ll see how it plays out in practice.

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