Human Rights Office welcomes US Supreme Court ruling on death penalty

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Ravina Shamdasani, Spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

A ruling by the Supreme Court in the United States concerning the use of the death penalty for people with mental and intellectual disabilities has been welcomed by the United Nations Human Rights Office.

Tuesday's ruling means that US states must not rigidly apply intelligence tests to inmates on death row, with the court saying this is because IQ tests have a margin of error. The case involved a prisoner in Florida who scored 71 on an IQ test. IQ scores below 70 are considered to be a marker of disability but medical experts say that people who score 75 can also be considered disabled because of the test's margin of error.

The state of Florida had refused to review any evidence about a defendant's purported intellectual disability unless he or she scored 70 or below on an IQ test.

The Supreme Court ruled that, in this particular case, it was unconstitutional to refuse to take into account mental factors other than an IQ test, with the court saying that 'intellectual disability is a condition, not a number.'

Ravina Shamdasani, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, says that the ruling is of great importance:

"We welcome the Supreme Court's ruling as a significant step towards limiting the scope of the death penalty in the United States, and we urge US authorities to go further and to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty."  (14″)

In 2002, the Supreme Court decreed that no state may execute people with mental disabilities. The court's latest decision has now made it clearer who counts as such an individual.

Nicki Chadwick, United Nations, Geneva.

Duration: 1'43"


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