U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Intellectual Disability Capital Cases

July 2, 2020, 1:52 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the limits of recent rulings involving executions and intellectual disability.

In rejecting the review of three cases on Thursday, the justices passed on the chance to consider whether those rulings apply retroactively on collateral review.

The underlying decisions arose in the case of former Texas death row inmate Bobby Moore. The justices ruled in his favor twice in the past few years, saying the state’s top criminal court didn’t adequately take into account evidence of his intellectual disability.

Since then, courts around the U.S. have reached mix results on who can benefit from Moore’s victory, prompting appeals from both defendants and the government seeking clarification from the high court, which the justices have now declined to offer.

One of the cases they turned down is a claim by Oklahoma officials that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit flouted legal principles in granting habeas relief to Roderick Smith years after his death sentence became final. Opposing high court review, Smith said the state’s procedural arguments are attempts to “secure the execution of a man whom multiple experts have found to be intellectually disabled and not one expert has concluded otherwise.”

That case is Sharp v. Smith, U.S., No. 19-1106.

The justices won’t review David Keen’s appeal from death row in Tennessee, where a state court said he couldn’t benefit from Moore’s case. Keen argued that, without Supreme Court clarification on the issue, “Tennessee will not only execute an intellectually disabled man, but will, through inaction, limit the constitutional protection recognized by this Court in Atkins v. Virginia,” the 2002 ruling that executing the intellectually disabled violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The case is Keen v. Tennessee, U.S., No. 19-7369.

The court also won’t consider the appeal from Alabama death row inmate Willie B. Smith, III. He challenged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling that said he can’t take advantage of Moore’s case. His petition asked the high court to take on the issue that he said has significant implications for numerous other death-row inmates nationwide.

The case is Smith v. Dunn, U.S., No. 19-7745.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jordan S. Rubin in Washington at jrubin@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com

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