Florida Supreme Court
Case No. SC18-1149
May 2020

Phillips vs. State

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Case Details

Decision

In a 4-1 decision, the Court upheld a lower court's ruling refusing Phillips' post-conviction relief. This ruling also overrides precedent. In 2016, this Court allowed the new, modern standards for intellectual disability claims to be applied retroactively in death penalty cases. This decision no longer allows retroactive consideration. The ruling reads:

"Based on its incorrect legal analysis, this Court (previously) used Hall—which merely created a limited procedural rule for determining intellectual disability ... to undermine the finality of numerous criminal judgments. ... it does not entitle Phillips to a reconsideration..."

Much of the opinion text goes over why they overturned their own ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court's Hall decision, which declared Florida's previous standards a violation of the 8th Amendment, is now viewed as a simple "refinement of the procedure". They also note that there is not a federal law declaring it must be retroactive. Based on these reasons, the Opinion states the new standards should not be retroactive.

The circuit court ruling that Phillips is appealing determined he met 2 out of 3 requirements for intellectual disability. He asked to be allowed to prove the missing requirement (Prong 2). They will not consider it because Phillips has "conclusively failed to establish" he meets the previous IQ level standards (Prong 1). Because of this, he can't be found intellectually disabled even if his request was met, because they no longer apply the new standards retroactively. On page 6 of the ruling, it is pointed out that Phillips met Prong 1 under the new standards in 2006. His IQ test results ranged between 70-75. The new standard is 75 or below.

Dissent: Justice Labarga

"Yet again, this Court has removed an important safeguard in maintaining the integrity of Florida’s death penalty jurisprudence. The result is an increased risk that certain individuals may be executed, even if they are intellectually disabled—a risk that this Court mitigated just three years ago ..."

Labarga points to a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which said Florida's intellectual disability standard for death penalty cases was invalid. The standard violated the U.S. Constitution's 8th Amendment, cruel and unusual punishment. He reasons: if the former standard was invalid, then pre-2014 death row inmates who may meet the new, valid standards should not be deprived consideration. He believes this new ruling opens the door to intellectually disabled individuals being executed.

He does not agree with a need for finality in the judicial process in this matter. He agrees it is an important concept, but this issue requires caution to ensure Florida does not violate the 8th Amendment.

Labarga is also concerned about the the unfair treatment that this ruling creates. For 5 years, Florida had been considering retroactive cases. Going forward, pre-2014 inmates will no longer be considered.

Read the full ruling at 5cda.org

Background

Harry Franklin Phillips, who was sentenced to death, filed for post-conviction relief in 2018 in circuit court. He wanted a review of his claim that he was not eligible for the death penalty because of an intellectual disability. The circuit court reviewed evidence from 2006. They determined he only had 2 of the 3 requirements to be considered and rejected his request. He appealed his claim to the Florida Supreme Court.

Phillips listed these supporting cases in his appeal:   

  • Hall v. Florida (2014): The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the intellectual disability standards Florida used in death penalty cases violated the 8th Amendment. The ruling set new IQ guidelines and noted that the law requires Hall have the opportunity to present evidence of his disability.
  • Walls v. State (2016): The Florida Supreme Court ruled that Hall applies retroactively and that Walls was entitled to a new hearing for his intellectual disability claim.
  • Moore v. Texas (2019): The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas used outdated medical standards for intellectual disability, in order to determine if a person should be exempt from execution. The outdated standards violated the 8th Amendment.

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