IQ: It’s Who You Are, Not Your Score.

IQ: It’s Who You Are, Not Your Score.

How many cases have I seen where the government proclaims that because my client’s IQ is not 70 or below, my client can understand the court proceedings, knew what he was doing at the time of the commission of the crime, understood the law enforcements advisements, and me just fine?

Too many to count.

But, now the United States Supreme Court is going to take a look at divesting our courts of the current practice of making a bright line determination based on an IQ Score.  They are actually going to determine if an individual’s intellectual disability or now called an “Intellectual Development Disorder” (the American Psychiatric Association’s new humane term for mental retardation) is dependent on whether their IQ is 70 or below.   This ruling will affect whether individuals stand trial, are put to death, and are considered to understand the court proceedings, etc.

Many states, like Florida, have a bright line rule that if the defendant’s IQ is not under 70, they do not have an intellectual disability.   And, many like Colorado, rely on the same outdated medicine, requiring that a person must be “mentally retarded” to be considered incompetent.   The term “mental retardation” translates as an individual having an IQ of 70 or under to most prosecutors and judges.

Truth is the number hasn’t mattered for at least a few years to the experts.  What should matter most is:   the person’s intellectual functioning, the criteria called adaptive behavior, and considerations which include environment typical of the individual’s peers, culture, and linguistic diversity.

What should matter may finally be coming to fruition.  Mr. Freddie Lee Hall, who was sentenced to death in 1978 in Florida and was diagnosed as having an IQ of 71. He was determined to not be “mentally retarded” because the Florida statutes state that an IQ of 70 or below is required.  Because of this one point differential, he can be executed.  The United States Supreme Court decided to hear this case last week to determine whether there should be a bright line number to diagnose someone with an intellectual disability.

Mr. Hall was called “the poster child for intellectual disability [sic]”.  This is the same Freddie Lee Hall who suffers from organic brain damage, chronic psychosis, a speech impediment, learning disability, is functionally illiterate, and has a short term memory equivalent to a first grader.  It is no surprise that he is so deficient.  It is in the record that he is the 16th of 17 children, and among some other atrocious abusive behavior his mother tied him in a “croaker” sack, swung it over a fire, and beat him; buried him in the sand up to his neck to “strengthen his legs”; tied his hands to a rope that was attached to a ceiling beam and beat him while he was naked; and held a gun on Hall and his siblings while she poked them with sticks.

As, Dr. First (Dr. DSM) presented at the Mental Health Forum,  the American Psychiatric Association, revised the DSM V and removed IQ scores from the intellectual disability diagnostic criteria.  The score is still in the text description, but it is not to be overemphasized.

There are many reasons, one of which was pointed out by Mr. Hall’s lawyers in their plea to the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case before Mr. Hall is to be executed, “Unfortunately, the human race has not yet developed a test for mental retardation that is like a blood pressure machine, hooked up to a defendant’s  arm with a gage [sic] that reads R for retarded, or N for not retarded…No instrument can measure IQ with that level of precision.”

This means we are getting to a point where all forensic professionals, lawyers, judges, and advocates are coming to an agreement, lest I be so optimistic, that we must take the time to understand the person, not just give them a number and move on (and/or execute them).

Read more in the NY Times