||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
How Low Can You Get
By: Dale Recinella
My parish friend follows me out of the grocery and into the vacuous morning parking lot.
He is still reeling from the news that attorneys, even publicly elected attorneys in official positions, publish legal arguments in the media as though they were facts.
“If you or I did that it would be a lie!” he mumbles out loud. “Well, at least the law is settled now as far as mental retardation.”
I hesitate before speaking. Does the need for truth and accuracy outweigh his need for certainty, even pretend certainty?
“Why are you making that face?” his voice challenges my indecision. “The U.S. Supreme Court did decide that we couldn’t execute the mentally retarded anymore didn’t they?”
“Yes, they did.”
“So why do you look like you’re trying to not say something?”
“There’s more to it than that.”
“Like what for instance?”
“The U.S. Supreme Court did not decide what qualifies as mental retardation.”
“You’re joking,” he pauses before his car, head shaking in disbelief. “Please, tell me you are pulling my leg.”
“Sorry. The Supreme Court left it up to each state to decide on the definition of mental retardation.”
“Well, either someone is mentally retarded or they’re not. It can’t be that complicated—can it? There must be some national standard.”
“Neighbor, you have to remember that the death penalty is about politics. It’s always complicated.”
“Meaning that even though the national standard for mental retardation is an IQ of 70 or lower, the whole country is about to go through what Florida went though last year. In 2001 Florida became one of the 18 death penalty states that prohibited execution of the mentally retarded. The Florida statute, however, did not set an IQ standard for mental retardation. That’s when Florida politicians started arguing about IQ levels.
“Of the 370 inmates currently residing on Florida’s death row , an estimated 10 to 15 percent have IQs under 70. The IQ level of 69 is the standard that the State of Florida uses for providing social services to the adult mentally retarded. If an IQ of 69 is the cut-off for the death penalty, between 20 and 40 people on Florida’s death row would be affected. However, some politicians have proposed setting the standard for mental retardation at an IQ of 50-55 or lower. If that’s done, not one mentally retarded person on Florida’s death row will be exempted from the death penalty.”
“What does an IQ of 50-55 mean?”
“One Florida lawyer has noted that a person with such an IQ could only kill someone by falling out of a window onto him.”
“So why not just use the standard of 69 or 70? Why make it different for the death penalty?”
“Everything is different for the death penalty because the death penalty is about politics.”
“But somebody who is mentally retarded is not fit for execution. It’s not appropriate. Why not just accept the definition of mental retardation that’s used for everything else?”
“Some politicians run for office based on killing people with capital punishment. The mentally retarded make up only about 2% of the overall population but are more than 10% of our death rows. That’s because they are easy to convict, even when they are innocent. And they are easy to kill. They have almost no resources and can’t assist much in their own appeals. Prohibiting the execution of the mentally retarded makes it harder to run for reelection using capital punishment. So some politicians want the IQ level much lower than 69 or 70. That allows them to use the execution of as many mentally retarded people as possible for campaign fodder.”
“My stomach is getting queasy.”
“Brother, my stomach’s been uneasy for quite a while now.”
 Florida now has about 400 men on death row with an estimated 10 to 15 percent having IQs under 70.
First published: The Florida Catholic, July 25, 2002
© 2002 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.
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Dale S. Recinella
, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella
, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed