Supreme Court Bars Texas from Using Outdated Medical Execution Standards


The U.S. Supreme Court has derailed another Texas execution. In a recent ruling, the justices said the state could no longer used outdated medical execution standards in cases where intellectual disability is a factor in death row cases.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of an inmate on Texas’ death row. The case of Bobby Moore was sent back to the appeals court. The ruling was important because it invalidated the method used by Texas of determining whether an inmate is intellectually disabled and not eligible for execution.

The high court’s ruling in March means a new hearing for Moore who was due to be executed last year. The 57-year-old has languished on death row for more than 36 years.


Medical execution standards in Texas are criticized by U.S. Supreme Court

In a 5-3 ruling in the case of Moore v Texas, the justices said the refusal of Texas to use updated medical standards and its reliance on nonclinical factors in death row hearings violates the Eighth Amendment. The Eight Amendment bars cruel and unusual punishment.

The Texas Tribune reported Moore from Harris County was tried and convicted of capital murder and received a death sentence in July 1980. He entered a supermarket in Houston with two other men and shot and killed a 73-year-old clerk.

Medical standards used to decide on intellectual disability were central to the case.

Three years ago in 2014, a Texas state court cited current medical standards to rule Moore was intellectually disabled and could not be executed.

These standards consider deficits in adaptive and intellectual functioning. Moore exhibited symptoms of an intellectual disability in his childhood. We noted how at the age of 13, Moore was unable to understand the days of the week, the months of the year and the seasons.

However, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overruled the state court’s decision. It said the lower court made a mistake in using current medical execution standards as opposed to the state’s test.

The Tribune report noted the Texas test is called the Briseno standard. It was established by the Court of Criminal Appeals in 2004. Two years earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing people with intellectual disabilities was unconstitutional. The Briseno standard used a medical definition from 1992. This stated intellectual and adaptive functioning must be “related.”

In other words, Moore’s low level of reasoning could be traced to a different factor like a traumatic childhood.

The State of Texas used other so-called Briseno factors to draw up its medical execution standards. The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Moore did not have a legal disability that would save him from a lethal injection.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion at the U.S. Supreme Court. She blamed Texas for using up-to-date medical standards in other criminal cases, but not when the death penalty is being considered. She said:

“Texas cannot satisfactorily explain why it applies current medical standards for diagnosing intellectual disability in other contexts, yet clings to superseded standards when an individual’s life is at stake.”

The case of Bobby Moore highlights how Texas often takes a different approach to the rest of the country on criminal justice matters. In some case, its approach is open to a legal challenge.

If you have been charged with a serious criminal offense in Texas, it’s vital to get experienced legal representation. Contact our criminal defense lawyers at (512) 399-2311.

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