Law Firm Blog - US Supreme Court Will Decide: Can An IQ Test Score Be Relied Upon, Without Calculating in the Standard Error of Measurement? | Eytan Nielsen
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US Supreme Court Will Decide: Can An IQ Test Score Be Relied Upon, Without Calculating in the Standard Error of Measurement?

US Supreme Court Will Decide: Can An IQ Test Score Be Relied Upon, Without Calculating in the Standard Error of Measurement?

The United States Supreme Court heard oral argument on March 3, 2014 to determine whether an IQ test score of 70 or below should be the cutoff for determining if an individual is mentally retarded, or properly stated, intellectually disabled. That decision is being made to determine whether Freddie Lee Hall should be executed, or if he cannot be executed as a result of the decision in Atkins v. Virginia ruling that no individual who is mentally retarded shall be executed. Mr. Hall has been on death row for over 35 years and has an IQ score of 71.

Mr. Hall’s lawyers argued that if the State of Florida is going to use the IQ test as a standard of measurement to determine mental retardation, they must also evaluate the score with the standard error of measurement in mind to ensure a 95% degree of confidence in the score, raising the bar to a 75 IQ.

Justice Breyer asked counsel for the State of Florida, what is so terrible about increasing the score to determine mental retardation to 75, taking into consideration the standard error of measurement to ensure a 95% confidence interval that the individual is mentally retarded?

Mr. Winsor, the Solicitor General for the State of Florida responded: What is so terrible is that an IQ of 75 will necessarily increase the number of people eligible for a finding of mental retardation.

Justice Breyer: But only those who in fact are mentally retarded.

Justice Kagan: And, how does a cutoff score have anything to do with the death penalty? We do individualized consideration [in this country]. And, essentially what your cut off does is it stops that in its tracks who may or may not have a true IQ of over 70, and let alone it stops people in their tracks who may be mentally retarded.

Justice Sotomayer: The petitioner is not arguing to rely less on IQ scores, just that it should stay where it has always been, and using the test makers own margin of error?

This decision will have far reaching effects for Mr. Hall, and many other individuals with intellectual disabilities facing the death penalty and all other criminal charges. Maybe it will protect too many individuals, but it will protect all individuals with intellectual disabilities. What is so terrible about that?

Full Transcript of the Argument