Moore v. Texas

State: Texas

Filed: 2016/2017

Court: United States Supreme Court, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

Overview: The brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 argued that Texas distorted the clinical definition of intellectual disability by devising a formula of exclusionary factors that rests heavily on stereotypes. This approach is wholly inconsistent with accepted scientific standards and leads to inaccurate and unreliable results. The brief argues that the deliberate decision to reject clinical standards in the adjudication of death penalty cases is inconsistent with prior Supreme Court precedent in Atkins v. Virginia and Hall v. Florida and incompatible with the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. In 2017, the Court held that Texas’ use of stereotypical and outdated factors—rather than well-established clinical standards—to determine intellectual disability in death penalty cases was unconstitutional, since they “create an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed.” The case was then remanded to the Texas Court of Criminal (TCCA) appeals to redo its disability determination consistent with the Supreme Court’s opinion. The Arc filed another brief in support of Mr. Moore before the TCCA. In 2018, the TCCA again found that Mr. Moore did not have intellectual disability and should be executed. A strong dissent from Judge Elsa Alcala cited The Arc’s amicus brief and noted that the majority opinion was inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent. Mr. Moore again petitioned for U.S. Supreme Court review.

Excerpt: “There is a wide gap between the clinical definition, on the one hand, and on the other, expectations that many laypeople have about what intellectual disability…means…Distorting the definition with invented exclusionary factors is fundamentally inconsistent with the clinical understanding of intellectual disability, and has no support in the scientific and clinical literature in the field…Texas’ invention and adoption of a list of unscientific criteria for adaptive functioning has the effect (and, apparently, the purpose) of limiting the protection of Atkins to a sub-set of those defendants who satisfy the clinical definition of intellectual disability. This is incompatible with the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of Cruel and Unusual Punishments. Amici believe that the basic framework of the clinical definition is the constitutionally required standard for determining whether a defendant has intellectual disability.”

Status: In 2019, the Supreme Court issued a per curiam opinion reversing the TCCA’s decision for continued reliance on stereotypes of intellectual disability—rather than clinical standards—and finding that Mr. Moore has intellectual disability and cannot be executed. In late 2019, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals commuted Mr. Moore’s sentence to life in prison.

Case Documents

U.S. Supreme Court Brief

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Brief

2017 U.S. Supreme Court Decision

2018 Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Decision

2019 U.S. Supreme Court Decision

Related Media

The Arc Blog: “The Arc Applauds Commutation of Bobby Moore Death Sentence

The Texas Tribune: “Bobby Moore’s death sentence is changed to life in prison after lengthy court fights over intellectual disability

The Arc Blog: “The Arc Applauds Supreme Court’s Decisive Rejection of Texas’ “Wholly Nonclinical,” “Outlier” Standards in Determining Intellectual Disability

Press Release: “The Arc Responds to Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Ruling in Bobby Moore Case”

Press Release: “Supreme Court Reaffirms Commitment to Clinical Standards, Not Stereotypes, In Determining Intellectual Disability in Death Penalty Cases

Pacific Standard: “SCOTUS Just Made It Harder To Execute Intellectually Disabled Prisoners”:

Austin American Statesman: “Why Bobby Moore Should Not Be on Texas’ Death Row