Policy

Supreme Court to Hear Two Death Penalty Cases Next Term

Cases concern intellectual disability standards and use of race in sentencing

The Supreme Court announced it will hear two death penalty cases in its next term. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Supreme Court will revisit the death penalty next term in two cases from Texas, agreeing Monday to hear appeals that raise issues about the use of race in sentencing, and the intellectual disability of death row defendants.

The cases do not speak to the constitutionality of the death penalty overall, but only to portions of it. However, the cases could give the justices another chance to air concerns generally about the death penalty.

Two justices, Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, questioned the constitutionality of the death penalty in a dissent in a 5-4 decision at the end of the court’s 2014 term, which upheld  Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol .

[ Inhofe: Botched Oklahoma Execution Shouldn't Change Death Penalty ]

On Monday, the court agreed to hear the case of a Texas inmate, Bobby Moore, who raised a question about medical standards used when it comes to the intellectual disability of a death row defendant. Moore was convicted of capital murder in 1980 in connection with shooting to death a Houston grocery store employee during a bungled robbery, according to his petition. 

He has challenged his conviction several times, including in a retrial that found his IQ score to be 70.

The court will not consider another question in the case, about whether the passage of more than 35 years between sentencing and execution violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. The court originally announced that the justices would consider that question, but corrected the order two hours later. 

[ After Sentencing 2 to Death, Former Judge Reflects on Pope, Capital Punishment ]

Also Monday, the justices agreed to hear the case of Duane Buck, whose trial attorney presented testimony from a defense expert that said Buck “was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black,” the Supreme Court petition states. Buck was sentenced in connection with the shooting deaths of two people in Houston. He wants the Supreme Court to allow the case to be reopened so he can pursue his claim that his lawyer, by using such a race argument, was constitutionally ineffective.

There have been 537 executions in Texas since 1982, according to data from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. That's nearly five times the number in Oklahoma, the state with the next highest number (112) of executions, according to the  Death Penalty Information Center

The court will hear the cases in the 2016 term that starts in October.

Correction 12:55 p.m. | This story was corrected to reflect an updated order list from the Supreme Court. The court said it had mistakenly indicated the Moore case would involve more issues.

Contact Ruger at  toddruger@cqrollcall.com  and follow him on Twitter  @ToddRuger .

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