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Supreme Court Finds that Reliance on Briseño Factors is Incompatible with the Eighth Amendment

March 29, 2017; Washington, DC

On March 28, 2017, in a 5–3 decision, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff in the case of Moore v. Texas.  In this case, Bobby James Moore was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death for fatally shooting a store clerk during a robbery that was committed when Mr. Moore was 20 years old.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2002 in its decision in Atkins v. Virginia, and further reaffirmed in 2014 in its decision in Hall v. Florida, that the execution of people with intellectual disability violates the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment.

At issue in this case was whether the state of Texas erred in its standards for determining intellectual disability in capital cases by relying on the so-called “Briseño factors” rather than contemporary clinical diagnostic guidance.  The Briseño factors were crafted by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals 2004, using a stereotyped view of intellectual disability, and based on the character of Lenny in John Steinbeck’s novella, Of Mice and Men

Notably, in both the majority decision and in the dissent, the Supreme Court justices unanimously agreed that the non-scientific factors applied by Texas were inappropriate for the determination of intellectual disability.

AAIDD and The Arc of the US jointly submitted an Amicus Brief in this case, which outlined the clinical definition of intellectual disability, clarified that individuals with intellectual disability have both strengths and weakness in their adaptive skills, and explained that having another condition (such as a mental illness) does not affect the diagnosis of intellectual disability.

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Founded in 1876, AAIDD is the oldest professional association concerned with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Learn more about the organization at www.aaidd.org.