U.S. Supreme Court finds Bobby Moore should be exempt from death penalty based on intellectual disability

Today, February 19, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a per curiam decision in the case of Moore v. Texas, finding that Bobby James Moore is intellectually disabled and should be exempt from the death penalty. Moore has been on death row in Texas since 1980. This is the second time the Supreme Court has ruled in his case; in both instances, the nation’s highest court found fault with the way the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) determined intellectual disability in capital cases.

In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state of Texas must use current medical standards in determining whether a person is intellectually disabled and therefore exempt from execution.  The Justices found the CCA had relied on outdated, non-scientific criteria in assessing whether Moore is intellectually disabled, which did not comport “with the Eighth Amendment and this Court’s precedents.” They returned the case to the CCA for further proceedings.

In June 2018, the CCA denied relief to Moore by a vote of 5 to 3. In doing so, the court once again relied on lay stereotypes of intellectual disability and non-scientific criteria.

In today’s Supreme Court decision, the Justices wrote the following:

After reviewing the trial court record and the court of appeals’ opinion, we agree with Moore that the appeals court’s determination is inconsistent with our opinion in Moore. 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. … 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. … The judgment of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

https://www.supremecourt.gov/orders/courtorders/021919zor_2dp3.pdf (Moore v. Texas begins on page 29)

Read coverage of the latest ruling in Moore v. Texas from the Texas Tribune.

Background
In the case of Bobby James Moore – the petitioner in Moore v. Texas – the CCA denied relief on June 6, 2018 by a vote of 5 to 3.  Moore’s case had been returned to the CCA for further proceedings after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on March 28, 2017 that the state of Texas must use current medical standards in determining whether a person is intellectually disabled and therefore exempt from execution.  The Justices found the CCA had relied on outdated, non-scientific criteria in assessing whether Moore is intellectually disabled, which did not comport “with the Eighth Amendment and this Court’s precedents.”

In their June 2018 ruling, the five-judge majority on the CCA once again relied on lay stereotypes and non-scientific criteria in rejecting Moore’s claim that he is exempt from the death penalty because he is intellectually disabled. They disregarded agreement by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, which acknowledged Moore’s intellectually disability and asked the court to resentence him to life in prison; the ruling of Harris County District Court Judge Susan Brown, who deemed Moore intellectually disabled by current medical standards after conducting an evidentiary hearing in 2014; and the views of prominent Texans across the political spectrum, religious institutions and faith leaders, intellectual disability organizations, medical organizations, and leaders of the legal profession that he should be exempt from the death penalty based on evidence of his intellectual disability. 

In the fall of 2018, Moore’s attorneys asked the U.S. Supreme Court to accept review of the case and summarily reverse this latest ruling from the CCA, and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office has asked for the same.  The American Bar Association, the American Psychological Association, and a group of conservatives, including former U.S. Solicitor Kenneth W. Starr, prominent lawyers, and former deputy attorneys general filed amicus briefs supporting Moore’s request to reverse the CCA’s opinion, as did the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.