Stone Introduces AB 2512: Intellectual Disabilities and Death Row

(From Press Release – Assemblymember Stone) – Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay) has introduced Assembly Bill 2512, which will modernize California’s Statute prohibiting the execution of people with intellectual disabilities.

In 2002, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of a person with an intellectual disability. The Court then tasked state governments with the enforcement of the constitutional restriction and in 2003, California added a section to the penal code complying with the instruction.

Since 2003, it has become clear there are significant issues with the current statute.

“Because our statute is so outdated, people who meet the current clinical standard for an intellectual disability can still be sentenced to death in California.  AB 2512 will modernize this statute so that all individuals are treated equally when an intellectual disability determination is made, and will prohibit prosecutors from making race-based arguments to prevent findings of intellectual disability,” said Stone.

The definition of intellectual disability in current statute requires the disability to have manifested before the person reached age 18.  We have since learned that the developmental period extends years beyond age 18.  AB 2512 would eliminate the age threshold and instead specify that the intellectual disability must have manifested “during the developmental period,” keeping it consistent with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and allowing the standard to remain up-to-date as clinical standards evolve.

The current statute requires a person to submit a declaration from an expert as proof of their intellectual disability, but does not provide an expert or funding for one.  The bill would require the court to appoint an expert if warranted by the evidence, and allow expert witnesses to testify about statements from other people that they used to form their opinion. This will ensure that a lack of resources will not prevent an intellectual disability finding.

Lastly, some prosecutors are using race-based arguments in an attempt to prevent findings of intellectual disability and keep people on death row. These prosecutors argue that IQ scores should be “adjusted upwards” for African American and Latinx people due to potential bias in the test. However, this increase in scores essentially allows a court to inflate a score so that the individual can qualify for execution.  AB 2512 would prohibit race, ethnicity, or national origin-based arguments to increase IQ scores.

“We have agreed as a society that it is wrong to execute the intellectually disabled and it is wrong to keep intellectually disabled people on death row for decades.  This bill is critical to the fair determination of whether one is intellectually disabled to ensure that they are not sentenced to death and do not remain on death row as a result of endless litigation,” said Leslie Caldwell Houston from the California Public Defenders’ Association.

If signed into law AB 2512 would bring fairness to intellectually disabled individuals on death row.

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1 Comment

  1. Eric Gelber

    The bill would create a broader and somewhat more vague definition of intellectual disability. But anything with the potential of exempting more people from the death penalty is a step in the right direction as far as I’m concerned.

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