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Capital Punishment Expert Available to Discuss IQ and the Death Penalty

Released: 3-Jun-2014 2:00 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: Georgia State University
Contact Information

Available for logged-in reporters only

Lauren Lucas, Professor of Law at Georgia State University, is available to discuss the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding capital punishment and IQ levels, with expertise in constitutional law, the right to counsel, capital punishment and indigent defense.

Lucas, a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, previously clerked for former Associate Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court of the United States. She later served as a Soros Justice Fellow and staff attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, and is currently on the board of the directors of the center.

Lucas explained:

"In Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court held that the execution of the intellectually disabled (then termed “mentally retarded”) violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. In Hall v. Florida, decided last week, the Court held that Florida’s statute, which prevented a prisoner from presenting any further evidence of intellectual disability unless his IQ score was 70 or less, was unconstitutional. As the Supreme Court’s most recent word on the issue, Hall is an important follow up to Atkins for three reasons.

First, the Court very explicitly replaced its prior terminology (“mental retardation”) with the now more acceptable term “intellectual disability,” demonstrating increased understanding of the phenomenon and regard for persons with such a disability. Second, in rejecting the Florida law's strict IQ test score cut off, the Court chose to defer to the expertise of medical professionals and members of the scientific community, who have emphasized the imprecision of IQ testing and that intellectual disability cannot be defined purely by a fixed number. Last, and on a related note, the Court pushed back on the notion that it must always defer to the states in implementing its stated legal rules in the context of the death penalty. In Hall, the Court took a more pragmatic view, holding that a state’s particular application of a rule may undermine the spirit and substance of Atkins and thus states cannot have complete autonomy in this area. Hall is important not only for its holding in this particular case, but for what it might suggest about the Court's (or at least Justice Kennedy's) approach to how the death penalty is administered--particularly in light of growing concerns about mental illness. These aspects of the Court’s ruling may also hold some promise for death penalty advocates pushing for increased judicial regulation of the death penalty and less deference to states in administering it, even in the context of execution methods that require some degree of medical knowledge, such as lethal injection."

For more about Lucas, visit http://law.gsu.edu/directory/lslucas.

Lucas can be reached at:
Phone: 404-413-9258
Email: lslucas@gsu.edu
Note: Lucas receives text and email alerts when voicemails are left on the contact phone number above in order to respond quickly as possible.

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