Moore v. Texas, 586 U.S. ___, 139 S. Ct. 666 (Feb. 19, 2019)

In a per curiam opinion in this capital case, the Court held that the defendant has shown he is a person with intellectual disability. In 2015 a Texas appellate court held that the defendant did not have an intellectual disability and consequently was eligible for the death penalty. The Court considered the lawfulness of that determination, vacated the court’s decision, and remanded the case for further consideration. The Texas court subsequently reconsidered the matter but reached the same conclusion, holding that the defendant had not demonstrated intellectual disability. The defendant filed a petition for certiorari, arguing that the trial court record demonstrates his intellectual disability. The prosecutor agreed with the defendant that he is intellectually disabled and cannot be executed; the Attorney General of Texas however asked the Court to deny the defendant’s petition. Considering the merits, the Court agreed with the defendant that the Texas appellate court’s determination was inconsistent with its prior opinion in the case. The Court noted: “We have found in its opinion too many instances in which, with small variations, it repeats the analysis we previously found wanting, and these same parts are critical to its ultimate conclusion.” For one thing, it explained, the Texas appellate court again relied less on the adaptive deficits to which the trial court had referred than upon the defendant’s apparent adaptive strengths. The Court also found that the Texas appellate court relied too heavily upon adaptive improvements made in prison. Furthermore, the Texas court concluded that the defendant failed to show that the cause of his deficient social behavior was related to any deficits in general mental abilities rather than emotional problems. The Court noted, in part, that in its last review, it said that the Court of Appeals had departed from clinical practice when it required the defendant to prove that his problems in kindergarten stemmed from intellectual disability rather than emotional problems. Additionally, despite the appellate court’s statement that it would abandon reliance on certain evidentiary factors, it seems to have used many of those factors in reaching its conclusion. The Court concluded:

[T]he appeals court’s opinion, when taken as a whole and when read in the light both of our prior opinion and the trial court record, rests upon analysis too much of which too closely resembles what we previously found improper. And extricating that analysis from the opinion leaves too little that might warrant reaching a different conclusion than did the trial court. We consequently agree with Moore and the prosecutor that, on the basis of the trial court record, Moore has shown he is a person with intellectual disability.

There was dissenting opinion in this case.