Virginia Death Penalty Laws Affected by Supreme Court Ruling

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that defendants with IQ scores near 70 should not receive capital punishment, contrary to current Virginia laws.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia commended the court’s ruling, saying that it’s time to address “serious flaws” in the state’s death penalty regulations.

In a news release, Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Executive Director of the Virginia ACLU said, “In addition to making clear that Virginia’s death penalty statute is unconstitutional on its face, today’s decision highlights the inherent arbitrariness of Virginia’s capital punishment system.”

“Currently an individual can be executed in Virginia if they have an IQ score of 71, but not 70, even though the margin of error in the IQ test is acknowledged to be greater than 1” Gastañaga explained.

Back in 2002, the Supreme Court decided that “mentally retarted” defendants would not be allowed capital punishment. However, what lacked was a clear classification of the mental state, in which they decided to use an IQ score of 70 or lower.

In critique of Virginia’s current death penalty laws, the American Bar Association said “Virginia’s standard for determining intellectual disability in death penalty cases could allow a person to be executed who does not, in fact, have the intellectual capacity to understand the punishment or the reason why he or she is to be put to death. That makes it unconstitutional.”

No longer will a single IQ score decide on a defendant’s execution.


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