Friday, May 6, 2011

Atkins MR/ID Court Decision: Turner v US (FL; 2011)




Thanks again to Kevin Foley for sending me this interesting case with a brief summary overview.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided the William Turner case. The case was an application for permission to file a subsequent federal habeas corpus claim. The 11th Circuit denied the application, and in doing so, upheld the Florida Courts' denial of Turner's Atkins claim.

After Atkins was decided, Turner sought to prove he was ID. Apparently, he initially presented the courts with evidence that he obtained childhood IQ scores of 72 and 73. Eventually, the Florida trial court appointed two experts to assess Turner. Turner obtained a FSIQ of 98 on the WAIS-III and a FSIQ of 108 on the SB-5. The trial court summarily denied the claim, without an evidenciary hearing, on the basis that there was no way Turner could show he was ID. The FL Supreme Court affirmed.

Of some significance was the fact that Turner served a combat tour in Vietnam and was honorably discharged from the military. He also graduated from high school - according to the 11th Circuit:

"Turner graduated from high school in the third quartile of his class and attended junior college [which] also refutes Turner’s contention."

His lawyers were nonplussed. Similar to the another recent case commented on via a guest blog post by Kevin Foley, the attorneys appeared to believe that all they had to show was that Turner was ID before age 18. As for the problem with the 26 or 36 point gain in IQ (depending on whether you look at the WAIS-III or the SB-5) from childhood to adult, the attorneys argued in their brief to the Florida Supreme Court that,

"for the past 24 years on death row he has strenuously worked to improve his intellectual functioning and academic skills. Now 64 years old, and a survivor of prostate cancer and radical surgery, Turner has spent the last quarter century doing virtually nothing but watching educational public television every day and diligently practicing his reading, communication, social sciences, and math skills. . . This hard work over the past 24 years is reflected in substantial increases in Turner’s IQ scores since childhood."

Interesting argument, but such a large increase in IQ scores make an ID/MR claim dubious and raises interesting issues about the third prong of the Dx (MR/ID during the developmental period)


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