Supreme Court agrees to hear death penalty cases

Supreme Court agrees to hear death penalty cases
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The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a case challenging the medical standards used to determine whether someone is intellectually fit to be executed.

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The case, Moore v. Texas, centers on Bobby Moore, who was convicted of capital murder in 1980 for fatally shooting a 70-year-old grocery store clerk.

Moore claims he’s intellectually disabled and therefore exempt from execution given the court’s 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia. In that 6-3 ruling, the court held that executions of mentally disabled criminals are "cruel and unusual punishments" prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.

When orders were first issued on Monday morning, the court said it would also weigh the constitutionality of executing someone 35 years after they were sentenced when half of that time has been served in solitary confinement. But just before noon, the court amended its orders, limiting its review of the case solely to the medical standards.

The court’s press office said the amended orders corrected an earlier mistake.

The court on Monday also agreed to review a second death penalty case — Duane Buck v. William Stephens, director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

That case concerns Duane Buck, who was sentenced to death for murdering his girlfriend and her friend. At his sentencing, his trial attorney presented testimony from a “defense expert” who claimed he was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black.

In Texas, "future dangerousness" is a prerequisite for a death sentence. In Buck’s case, according to court documents, it was the central disputed issue at sentencing.

Four years after he was sentenced, Texas acknowledged that such testimony is unconstitutional.

The justices will now weigh whether the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals imposed an improper and unduly burdensome Certificate of Appealability standard when it denied him relief. The lower court said Buck had not made even a minimal showing that his case was exceptional and that his ineffective assistance of counsel claim was “unremarkable.”

— This report was updated at 12:26 p.m.