Brief filed in capital punishment case

Disability Rights Washington has filed an amicus brief in support of Cecil Davis’s appeal of his death penalty sentence. The appeal to the Washington State Supreme Court is scheduled for February 10, 2011.

The record shows that Davis has multiple co-occurring disabilities, including decreased intellectual functioning, mental illness, and traumatic brain injury. He does math and reads at a fourth grade level and various professionals, tests, and brain scans all show he has decreased intellectual functioning and slowing of the brain.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that a person with an intellectual disability cannot be executed. However, the state’s definition of an intellectual disability refers to individuals with an IQ below 70 before the age of 18. Davis scored both slightly above and below 70 in IQ tests during his life, though his IQ score decreased over time and was most recently measured at 68 following a car accident that created additional neurological problems and cognitive disabilities.

The amicus brief asserts that the state’s focus on an individual disability overlooks the cumulative effect of Davis’ co-occurring disabilities, and that differentiating between people with a single intellectual disability and people with a combination of these disabilities would violate the Equal Protection Clause. The primary clinical manual of mental health professionals, the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorder, “explicitly cautions against conflating the clinical measurements of disability with legal disability categorization.”

“When an individual does not meet the formulaic statutory rule for intellectual disability, but evidences the impaired reason and impulse control demonstrated by those who meet the formula, the court is still bound by the Constitutional precepts found in the Eighth Amendment,” according to the brief, referring to constitution’s limitation of cruel and unusual punishment described by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2002 ruling prohibiting the execution of people with intellectual disabilities.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, Washington Association of Churches, and Lutheran Public Policy of Washington State also jointly filed an amicus brief supporting Davis’ appeal.