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Moore v. Texas

United States Supreme Court

March 28, 2017

MOORE
v.
TEXAS

          Argued November 29, 2016

         CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS OF TEXAS

         Petitioner Moore was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death for fatally shooting a store clerk during a botched robbery that occurred when Moore was 20 years old. A state habeas court subsequently determined that, under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, and Hall v. Florida, 572 U.S. ___, Moore qualified as intellectually disabled and that his death sentence therefore violated the Eighth Amendment's proscription of "cruel and unusual punishments." The court consulted current medical diagnostic standards-the 11th edition of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities clinical manual (AAIDD-11) and the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. The habeas court followed the generally accepted intellectual-disability definition, which identifies three core elements: (1) intellectual-functioning deficits, (2) adaptive deficits, and (3) the onset of these deficits while still a minor. Moore's IQ scores, the court determined, established subaverage intellectual functioning. The court credited six scores, the average of which (70.66) indicated mild intellectual disability. And relying on testimony from mental-health professionals, the court found significant adaptive deficits in all three skill sets (conceptual, social, and practical). Based on its findings, the habeas court recommended to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) that Moore be granted relief. The CCA declined to adopt the judgment recommended by the habeas court. The CCA held instead that the habeas court erred by not following the CCAs 2004 decision in Ex parte Briseno, 135 S.W.3d 1, which adopted the definition of, and standards for assessing, intellectual disability contained in the 1992 (ninth) edition of the American Association on Mental Retardation manual (AAMR-9), predecessor to the current AAIDD-11 manual. Briseno also incorporated the AAMR-9's requirement that adaptive deficits must be "related" to intellectual-functioning deficits, and it recited, without citation to any medical or judicial authority, seven evidentiary factors relevant to the intellectual-disability inquiry. Based on only two of Moore's IQ scores (of 74 and 78), the CCA concluded that Moore had not shown significantly subaverage intellectual functioning. And even if he had, the CCA continued, his adaptive strengths undercut any adaptive weaknesses. The habeas court also failed, the CCA determined, to inquire into relatedness. Among alternative causes for Moore's adaptive deficits, the CCA suggested, were an abuse-filled childhood, undiagnosed learning disorders, multiple elementary-school transfers, racially motivated harassment and violence at school, and a history of academic failure, drug abuse, and absenteeism. Briseno's seven evidentiary factors, the CCA further determined, weighed against finding that Moore had satisfied the relatedness requirement.

         Held: By rejecting the habeas court's application of medical guidance and by following the Briseno standard, including the nonclinical Briseno factors, the CCAs decision does not comport with the Eighth Amendment and this Court's precedents. Pp. 9-18.

         (a) The Eighth Amendment, which " 'reaffirms the duty of the government to respect the dignity of all persons, '" Hall, 572 U.S., at ___, prohibits the execution of any intellectually disabled individual, Atkins, 536 U.S., at 321. While Atkins and Hall left to the States "the task of developing appropriate ways to enforce" the restriction on executing the intellectually disabled, Hall, 572 U.S., at ___ (internal quotation marks omitted), States' discretion is not "unfettered, " id., at ___, and must be "informed by the medical community's diagnostic framework, " id., at ___ - ___. Relying on the most recent (and still current) versions of the leading diagnostic manuals, the Court concluded in Hall that Florida had "disregard[ed] established medical practice, " id., at ___, and had parted ways with practices and trends in other States, id., at ___ - ___. Hall indicated that being informed by the medical community does not demand adherence to everything stated in the latest medical guide. But neither does precedent license disregard of current medical standards. Pp. 9-10.

         (b) The CCAs conclusion that Moore's IQ scores established that he is not intellectually disabled is irreconcilable with Hall, which instructs that, where an IQ score is close to, but above, 70, courts must account for the test's "standard error of measurement." See 572 U.S., at ___ - ___, ___ - ___. Because the lower range of Moore's adjusted IQ score of 74 falls at or below 70, the CCA had to move on to consider Moore's adaptive functioning. Pp. 10-12.

         (c) The CCAs consideration of Moore's adaptive functioning also deviated from prevailing clinical standards and from the older clini- cal standards the CCA deemed applicable. Pp. 12-16.

         (1) The CCA overemphasized Moore's perceived adaptive strengths-living on the streets, mowing lawns, and playing pool for money-when the medical community focuses the adaptive-functioning inquiry on adaptive deficits. The CCA also stressed Moore's improved behavior in prison, but clinicians caution against reliance on adaptive strengths developed in controlled settings. Pp. 12-13.

         (2) The CCA further concluded that Moore's record of academic failure, along with a history of childhood abuse and suffering, detracted from a determination that his intellectual and adaptive deficits were related. The medical community, however, counts traumatic experiences as risk factors for intellectual disability. The CCA also departed from clinical practice by requiring Moore to show that his adaptive deficits were not related to "a personality disorder." Mental-health professionals recognize that intellectually disabled people may have other co-existing mental or physical impairments, including, e.g., attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, depressive and bipolar disorders, and autism. Pp. 13-14.

         (3) The CCAs attachment to the seven Briseno evidentiary factors further impeded its assessment of Moore's adaptive functioning. By design and in operation, the lay perceptions advanced by Briseno "creat[e] an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed." Hall, 572 U.S., at ___. The medical profession has endeavored to counter lay stereotypes, and the Briseno factors are an outlier, in comparison both to other States' handling of intellectual-disability pleas and to Texas' own practices in contexts other than the death penalty. Pp. 14-16.

         (d) States have some flexibility, but not "unfettered discretion, " in enforcing Atkins' holding, Hall, 572 U.S., at ___, and the medical community's current standards, reflecting improved understanding over time, constrain States' leeway in this area. Here, the habeas court applied current medical standards in reaching its conclusion, but the CCA adhered to the standard it laid out in Briseno, including the nonclinical Briseno factors. The CCA therefore failed adequately to inform itself of the "medical community's diagnostic framework, " Hall, 572 U.S., at ___ - ___. Because Briseno pervasively infected the CCAs analysis, the decision of that court cannot stand. Pp. 17-18. 470 S.W.3d 481, vacated and remanded.

          GlNSBURG, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which KENNEDY, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and Kagan, JJ., joined. ROBERTS, C. J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which THOMAS and Alito, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          GINSBURG JUSTICE.

         Bobby James Moore fatally shot a store clerk during a botched robbery. He was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. Moore challenged his death sentence on the ground that he was intellectually disabled and therefore exempt from execution. A state habeas court made detailed factfindings and determined that, under this Court's decisions in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), and Hall v. Florida, 572 U.S. ___ (2014), Moore qualified as intellectually disabled. For that reason, the court concluded, Moore's death sentence violated the Eighth Amendment's proscription of "cruel and unusual punishments." The habeas court therefore recommended that Moore be granted relief.

         The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA)[1] declined to adopt the judgment recommended by the state habeas court.[2] In the CCA's view, the habeas court erroneously employed intellectual-disability guides currently used in the medical community rather than the 1992 guides adopted by the CCA in Exparte Briseno, 135 S.W.3d 1 (2004). See Exparte Moore, 470 S.W.3d 481, 486-487 (2015). The appeals court further determined that the evidentiary factors announced in Briseno "weigh[ed] heavily" against upsetting Moore's death sentence. 470 S.W.3d, at 526.

         We vacate the CCA's judgment. As we instructed in Hall, adjudications of intellectual disability should be "informed by the views of medical experts." 572 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 19); see id., at ___ (slip op., at 7). That instruction cannot sensibly be read to give courts leave to diminish the force of the medical community's consensus. Moreover, the several factors Briseno set out as indicators of intellectual disability are an invention of the CCA untied to any acknowledged source. Not aligned with the medical community's information, and drawing no strength from our precedent, the Briseno factors "creat[e] an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed, " 572 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 1). Accordingly, they may not be used, as the CCA used them, to restrict qualification of an individual as intellectually disabled.

         I

         In April 1980, then-20-year-old Bobby James Moore and two others were engaged in robbing a grocery store. Exparte Moore, 470 S.W.3d 481, 490-491 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015); App. 58. During the episode, Moore fatally shot a store clerk. 470 S.W.3d, at 490. Some two months later, Moore was convicted and sentenced to death. See id., at 492. A federal habeas court later vacated that sentence based on ineffective assistance of trial counsel, see Moore v. Collins, 1995 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22859, *35 (SD Tex., Sept. 29, 1995), and the Fifth Circuit affirmed, see Moore v. Johnson, 194 F.3d 586, 622 (1999). Moore was resentenced to death in 2001, and the CCA affirmed on direct appeal. See Moore v. State, 2004 WL 231323, *1 (Jan. 14, 2004), cert, denied, 543 U.S. 931 (2004).

         Moore subsequently sought state habeas relief. In 2014, the state habeas court conducted a two-day hearing on whether Moore was intellectually disabled. See Ex parte Moore, No. 314483-C (185th Jud. Dist., Harris Cty., Tex., Feb. 6, 2015), App. to Pet. for Cert. 129a. The court received affidavits and heard testimony from Moore's family members, former counsel, and a number of court-appointed mental-health experts. The evidence revealed that Moore had significant mental and social difficulties beginning at an early age. At 13, Moore lacked basic understanding of the days of the week, the months of the year, and the seasons; he could scarcely tell time or comprehend the standards of measure or the basic principle that subtraction is the reverse of addition. Id., at 187a. At school, because of his limited ability to read and write, Moore could not keep up with lessons. Id., at 146a, 182a-183a. Often, he was separated from the rest of the class and told to draw pictures. Ibid. Moore's father, teachers, and peers called him "stupid" for his slow reading and speech. Id., at 146a, 183a. After failing every subject in the ninth grade, Moore dropped out of high school. Id., at 188a. Cast out of his home, he survived on the streets, eating from trash cans, even after two bouts of food poisoning. Id., at 192a-193a.

         In evaluating Moore's assertion of intellectual disability, the state habeas court consulted current medical diagnostic standards, relying on the 11th edition of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) clinical manual, see AAIDD, Intellectual Disability: Definition, Classification, and Systems of Supports (2010) (hereinafter AAIDD-11), and on the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), see APA, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (2013) (hereinafter DSM-5). App. to Pet. for Cert. 150a-151a, 202a. The court followed the generally accepted, uncontroversial intellectual-disability diagnostic definition, which identifies three core elements: (1) intellectual-functioning deficits (indicated by an IQ score "approximately two standard deviations below the mean"-i.e., a score of roughly 70-adjusted for "the standard error of measurement, " AAIDD-11, at 27); (2) adaptive deficits ("the inability to learn basic skills and adjust behavior to changing circumstances, " Hall v. Florida, 572 U.S. ___, ___ (2014) (slip op., at 8)); and (3) the onset of these deficits while still a minor. See App. to Pet. for Cert. 150a (citing AAIDD-11, at 1). See also Hall, 572 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 8).[3]

         Moore's IQ scores, the habeas court determined, established subaverage intellectual functioning. The court credited six of Moore's IQ scores, the average of which (70.66) indicated mild intellectual disability. App. to Pet. for Cert. 167a-170a.[4] And relying on testimony from several mental-health experts, the habeas court found significant adaptive deficits. In determining the significance of adaptive deficits, clinicians look to whether an individual's adaptive performance falls two or more standard deviations below the mean in any of the three adaptive skill sets (conceptual, social, and practical). See AAIDD-11, at 43. Moore's performance fell roughly two standard deviations below the mean in all three skill categories. App. to Pet. for Cert. 200a-201a. Based on this evidence, the state habeas court recommended that the CCA reduce Moore's sentence to life in prison or grant him a new trial on intellectual disability. See id., at 203a.

         The CCA rejected the habeas court's recommendations and denied Moore habeas relief. See 470 S.W.3d 481. At the outset of its opinion, the CCA reaffirmed Ex parte Briseno, 135 S.W.3d 1 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004), as paramount precedent on intellectual disability in Texas capital cases. See 470 S.W.3d, at 486-487. Briseno adopted the definition of, and standards for assessing, intellectual disability contained in the 1992 (ninth) edition of the American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR) manual, predecessor to the current AAIDD-11 manual. See 135 S.W.3d, at 7 (citing AAMR, Mental Retardation: Definition, Classification, and Systems of Supports (9th ed. 1992) (hereinafter AAMR-9)).

         Briseno incorporated the AAMR-9's requirement that adaptive deficits be "related" to intellectual-functioning deficits. 135 S.W.3d, at 7 (quoting AAMR-9, at 25).[5] To determine whether a defendant has satisfied the related-ness requirement, the CCA instructed in this case, Texas courts should attend to the "seven evidentiary factors" first set out in Briseno. 470 S.W.3d, at 489.[6] No citation to any authority, medical or judicial, accompanied the Briseno court's recitation of the seven factors. See 135 S.W.3d, at 8-9.

         The habeas judge erred, the CCA held, by "us[ing] the most current position, as espoused by AAIDD, regarding the diagnosis of intellectual disability rather than the test ... in Briseno." 470 S.W.3d, at 486. This Court's decision in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), the CCA emphasized, "left it to the States to develop appropriate ways to enforce the constitutional restriction" on the execution of the intellectually disabled. 470 S.W.3d, at 486. Thus, even though "[i]t may be true that the AAIDD's and APA's positions regarding the diagnosis of intellectual disability have changed since Atkins and Briseno, " the CCA retained Briseno's instructions, both because of "the subjectivity surrounding the medical diagnosis of intellectual disability" and because the Texas Legislature had not displaced Briseno with any other guideposts. 470 S.W.3d, at 486-487. The Briseno inquiries, the court said, "remai[n] adequately 'informed by the medical community's diagnostic framework.'" 470 S.W.3d, at 487 (quoting Hall, 572 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 19-20)).

         Employing Briseno, the CCA first determined that Moore had failed to prove significantly subaverage intellectual functioning. 470 S.W.3d, at 514-519. Rejecting as unreliable five of the seven IQ tests the habeas court had considered, the CCA limited its appraisal to Moore's scores of 78 in 1973 and 74 in 1989. Id., at 518-519. The court then discounted the lower end of the standard-error range associated with those scores. Id., at 519; see infra, at 10-11 (describing standard error of measurement). Regarding the score of 74, the court observed that Moore's history of academic failure, and the fact that he took the test while "exhibiting] withdrawn and depressive behavior" on death row, might have hindered his performance. 470 S.W.3d, at 519. Based on the two scores, but not on the lower portion of their ranges, the court concluded that Moore's scores ranked "above the intellectually disabled range" (i.e., above 70). Ibid.; see id., at 513.

         "Even if [Moore] had proven that he suffers from significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning, " the court continued, he failed to prove "significant and related limitations in adaptive functioning." Id., at 520. True, the court acknowledged, Moore's and the State's experts agreed that Moore's adaptive-functioning test scores fell more than two standard deviations below the mean. Id., at 521; see supra, at 4. But the State's expert ultimately discounted those test results because Moore had "no exposure" to certain tasks the testing included, "such as writing a check and using a microwave oven." 470 S.W.3d, at 521-522. Instead, the expert emphasized Moore's adaptive strengths in school, at trial, and in prison. Id., at 522-524.

         The CCA credited the state expert's appraisal. Id., at 524. The habeas court, the CCA concluded, had erred by concentrating on Moore's adaptive weaknesses. Id., at 489. Moore had demonstrated adaptive strengths, the CCA spelled out, by living on the streets, playing pool and mowing lawns for money, committing the crime in a sophisticated way and then fleeing, testifying and representing himself at trial, and developing skills in prison. Id., at 522-523. Those strengths, the court reasoned, undercut the significance of Moore's adaptive limitations. Id., at 524-525.

         The habeas court had further erred, the CCA determined, by failing to consider whether any of Moore's adaptive deficits were related to causes other than his intellectual- functioning deficits. Id., at 488, 526. Among alternative causes for Moore's adaptive deficits, the CCA suggested, were an abuse-filled childhood, undiagnosed learning disorders, multiple elementary-school transfers, racially motivated harassment and violence at school, and a history of academic failure, drug abuse, and absenteeism. Ibid. Moore's significant improvement in prison, in the CCA's view, confirmed that his academic and social difficulties were not related to intellectual-functioning deficits. Ibid. The court then examined each of the seven Briseno evidentiary factors, see supra, at 5-6, and n. 6, concluding that those factors "weigh[ed] heavily" against finding that Moore had satisfied the relatedness requirement. 470 S.W.3d, at 526-527.

         Judge Alcala dissented. Atkins and Hall, she would have held, require courts to consult current medical standards to determine intellectual disability. 470 S.W.3d, at 530. She criticized the majority for relying on manuals superseded in the medical community, id., at 530-534, 536-539, and for disregarding the habeas court's credibility determinations, id., at 535-536, 538-539. Judge Alcala questioned the legitimacy of the seven Briseno factors, recounting wide criticism of the factors and explaining how they deviate from the current medical consensus. See 470 S.W.3d, at 529-530, and n. 5. Most emphatically, she urged, the CCA "must consult the medical community's current views and standards in determining whether a defendant is intellectually disabled"; "reliance on . . . standard[s] no longer employed by the medical community, " she objected, "is constitutionally unacceptable." Id., at 533.

         We granted certiorari to determine whether the CCA's adherence to superseded medical standards and its reliance on Briseno comply with the Eighth Amendment and this Court's precedents. 578 U.S. ___ (2016).

         II

         The Eighth Amendment prohibits "cruel and unusual punishments, " and "reaffirms the duty of the government to respect the dignity of all persons, " Hall, 572 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 5) (quoting Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 560 (2005)). "To enforce the Constitution's protection of human dignity, " we "loo[k] to the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society, " recognizing that "[t]he Eighth Amendment is not fastened to the obsolete." Hall, 572 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 5) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In Atkins v. Virginia, we held that the Constitution "restrict[s] . . . the State's power to take the life of" any intellectually disabled individual. 536 U.S., at 321. See also Hall, 572 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 6); Roper, 543 U.S., at 563-564. Executing intellectually disabled individuals, we concluded in Atkins, serves no penological purpose, see 536 U.S., at 318-320; runs up against a national consensus against the practice, see id., at 313-317; and creates a "risk that the death penalty will be imposed in spite of factors which may call for a less severe penalty, " id., at 320 (internal quotation marks omitted); see id., at 320-321.

         In Hall v. Florida, we held that a State cannot refuse to entertain other evidence of intellectual disability when a defendant has an IQ score above 70. 572 U.S., at ___ - ___ (slip op., at 21-22). Although Atkins and Hall left to the States "the task of developing appropriate ways to enforce" the restriction on executing the intellectually disabled, 572 U.S., at ___(slip op., at 17) (quoting Atkins, 536 U.S., at 317), States' discretion, we cautioned, is not "unfettered, " 572 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 17). Even if "the views of medical experts" do not "dictate" a court's intellectual-disability determination, id., at ___ (slip op., at 19), we clarified, the determination must be "informed by the medical community's diagnostic framework, " id., at ___ - ___ (slip op., at 19-20). We relied on the most recent (and still current) versions of the leading diagnostic manuals- the DSM-5 and AAIDD-11. Id., at ___, ___, ___ - ___, ___ - ___ (slip op., at 3, 8, 10-11, 20-21). Florida, we concluded, had violated the Eighth Amendment by "disregarding] established medical practice." Id., at ___(slip op., at 10). We further noted that Florida had parted ways with practices and trends in other States. Id., at ___ - ___ (slip op., at 12-16). Hall indicated that being informed by the medical community does not demand adherence to everything stated in the latest medical guide. But neither does our precedent license disregard of current medical standards.

         III

         The CCA's conclusion that Moore's IQ scores established that he is not intellectually disabled is irreconcilable with Hall. Hall instructs that, where an IQ score is close to, but above, 70, courts must account for the test's "standard error of measurement." See id., at ___ - ___, ___- ___ (slip op., at 10-11, 21-22). See also Brumfield v. Cain, 576 U.S. ___, ___ (2015) (slip op., at 10) (relying on Hall to find unreasonable a state court's conclusion that a score of 75 precluded an intellectual-disability finding). As we explained in Hall, the standard error of measurement is "a statistical fact, a reflection of the inherent imprecision of the test itself." 572 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 10). "For purposes of most IQ tests, " this imprecision in the testing instrument "means that an individual's score is best understood as a range of scores on either side of the recorded score . . . within which one may say an individual's true IQ score lies." Id., at ___ (slip op., at 11). A test's standard error of measurement "reflects the reality that an individual's intellectual functioning cannot be reduced to a single ...


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