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Ex parte Lane

Supreme Court of Alabama

September 14, 2018

Ex parte Anthony Lane
State of Alabama) In re: Anthony Lane

          Jefferson Circuit Court, CC-09-3202; Court of Criminal Appeals, CR-10-1343


          SELLERS, Justice.

         Anthony Lane was convicted in the Jefferson Circuit Court of murder made capital because it was committed during the course of a robbery in the first degree. See § 13A-5-40(a)(2), Ala. Code 1975. Although Lane initially lied to police about his involvement in the murder, he eventually told police that he had approached Frank Wright at a car wash to ask him the time, that Wright had used a degrading racial epithet to describe Lane, and that Lane had "blanked out" and shot Wright multiple times, killing him. Lane claimed that, after he shot Wright, he panicked and drove away in Wright's vehicle. A police officer testified that Wright's body, which was found at the car wash, was discovered with his pants pockets "turned out" and his wallet missing.

         Lane parked Wright's vehicle in an alley next to a convenience store, paid for two dollars' worth of gasoline, put approximately one dollar's worth of gasoline in a container, and offered the remainder of the gasoline to another customer. After telling the other customer "that he had to go get rid of some evidence," Lane went to the alley, poured the gasoline in Wright's vehicle, and set it on fire. The partially burned vehicle was discovered next to the convenience store. Lane told police that he gave the gun he had used to kill Wright to a man he did not know, with the understanding that the man would give Lane money for the gun at a later time. Wright's wallet was discovered in his vehicle. It contained his personal identification documents but no money. An investigating police officer testified that, in his opinion, Wright's vehicle had been "ransacked," although the wallet, the stereo, and other valuable items had not been taken.

         Before he was sentenced, Lane argued to the trial court that he is intellectually disabled and therefore, under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), ineligible to be sentenced to death.[1] The trial court rejected that argument and, following the jury's 10-2 recommendation, sentenced Lane to death. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Lane's conviction and sentence. Lane v. State, 169 So.3d 1076, 1087-94 (Ala.Crim.App.2013) ("Lane I"). Judge Welch dissented, concluding that the evidence established that Lane is intellectually disabled. 169 So.3d at 1145. This Court denied Lane's petition for a writ of certiorari.

         On October 5, 2015, the United States Supreme Court granted Lane's petition for a writ of certiorari, vacated the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals, and remanded the cause "for further consideration in light of Hall v. Florida, 572 U.S.___, 134 S.Ct. 1986, 188 L.Ed.2d 1007 (2014)." Lane v. Alabama, 577 U.S. ___, ___, 136 S.Ct. 91, 91 (2015). The Court gave no further guidance as to the applicability of Hall. On remand, the Court of Criminal Appeals again affirmed Lane's conviction and sentence. Lane v. State, [Ms. CR-10-1343, April 29, 2016] ___ So.3d ___ (Ala.Crim.App.2016) ("Lane II"). Judge Welch again dissented. We granted Lane's petition for a writ of certiorari. The State has now agreed with Lane's argument and conceded that the trial court should not have sentenced Lane to death.

         In Atkins, the United States Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the execution of mentally retarded offenders (now referred to as "intellectually disabled"). Although the Court in Atkins left "'to the State[s] the task of developing appropriate ways to enforce the constitutional restriction upon [their] execution of sentences, '" 536 U.S. at 317 (quoting Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399, 106 (1986)), the Court also referred to definitions of "mental retardation" that had been adopted by the American Association of Mental Retardation ("the AAMR") and the American Psychiatric Association ("the APA"). Those organizations defined mental retardation as significantly subaverage intellectual functioning, accompanied by significant limitations in adaptive functioning, both of which manifest themselves before age 18. 536 U.S. at 308 n.3. See also Smith v. State, 213 So.3d 239, 248 (Ala. 2007) ("[I]n order for an offender to be considered mentally retarded in the Atkins context, the offender must currently exhibit subaverage intellectual functioning, currently exhibit deficits in adaptive behavior, and these problems must have manifested themselves before the age of 18.").

         According to the Supreme Court in Atkins, "[i]t is estimated that between 1 and 3 percent of the population has an IQ between 70 and 75 or lower, which is typically considered the cutoff IQ score for the intellectual function prong of the mental retardation definition." 536 U.S. at 309 n.5. As for the adaptive-functioning prong, Atkins identified 10 "adaptive skill areas" that had been recognized by the AAMR and the APA--communication, self-care, home living, social skills, utilization of community resources, self-direction, health and safety, functional academics, leisure, and work. Id. The Court of Criminal Appeals noted in Lane I that, "[i]n order for an individual to have 'significant or substantial deficits in adaptive behavior,' he must have 'concurrent deficits or impairments in present adaptive functioning in at least two of the [adaptive] skill areas [identified in Atkins].'" 169 So.3d at 1090 (quoting Albarran v. State, 96 So.3d 131, 197 (Ala.Crim.App.2011), quoting in turn Holladay v. Allen, 555 F.3d 1346, 1353 (11th Cir. 2009)).[2]

         It is undisputed that Lane has an IQ of 70. The State has never seriously argued that his intellectual functioning is anything but significantly subaverage. Rather, the dispute has centered around whether Lane also has the requisite deficits in adaptive skills necessary to render him intellectually disabled.[3]

         In Hall v. Florida, 572 U.S. ___, 134 S.Ct. 1986 (2014), upon which the United States Supreme Court relied in vacating the Court of Criminal Appeals' judgment in the present case, the Court considered a challenge to the State of Florida's practice of mandating that a defendant have an IQ score of 70 or below before he or she is allowed to present evidence of limitations in adaptive skill areas. The Court in Hall described the issue presented in that case as follows:

"The question this case presents is how intellectual disability must be defined in order to implement these principles [weighing against imposing the death penalty on intellectually disabled criminals] and the holding of Atkins. To determine if Florida's [IQ score] cutoff rule is valid, it is proper to consider the psychiatric and professional studies that elaborate on the purpose and meaning of IQ scores to determine how the scores relate to the holding of Atkins. This in turn leads to a better understanding of how the legislative policies of various States, and the holdings of state courts, implement the Atkins rule. That understanding informs our determination whether there is a consensus that instructs how to decide the specific issue presented here. And, in conclusion, this Court must express its own independent determination reached in light of the instruction found in those sources and authorities."

572 U.S. at ___, 134 S.Ct. at 1993. The Court in Hall stressed that, "[i]n determining who qualifies as intellectually disabled, it is proper to consult the medical community's opinions." 572 U.S. at ___, 134 S.Ct. at 1993. After embracing "clinical definitions of intellectual disability," the Court held:

"If the States were to have complete autonomy to define intellectual disability as they wished, the Court's decision in Atkins could become a nullity, and the Eighth Amendment's protection of human dignity would not become a reality. This Court thus reads Atkins to provide substantial guidance on the definition of intellectual disability."

572 U.S. at ___, 134 S.Ct. at 1999. Ultimately, the Court struck Florida's IQ score threshold because it "disregard[ed] established medical practice" in failing to take into account the "standard error of measurement" in IQ tests. 572 U.S. at ___, 134 S.Ct. at 1995. The standard error of measurement is a "reflection of the inherent imprecision of the [IQ] test itself" and "means that an individual's score is best understood as a range of scores on either side of the recorded score." 572 U.S. at ___, 134 S.Ct. at 1995. Thus, the Court concluded, the State of Florida could not conclusively determine that a criminal defendant is not intellectually disabled based solely on the fact that his or her IQ score is higher than 70.

         In addition to Florida, the United States Supreme Court in Hall identified Alabama as one of a few states that "may use a strict IQ score cutoff at 70." Hall, 572 U.S. at, 134 S.Ct. at 1996. The Court pointed to Smith v. State, 71 So.3d 12, 20 (Ala.Crim.App.2008), in which the Court of Criminal Appeals had refused to adopt a rule whereby trial courts must factor in the margin of error of an IQ test when considering a defendant's IQ score. 71 So.3d at 20. After the United States Supreme Court remanded the cause in the present case, the Court of Criminal Appeals overruled Smith to the extent it so held and, based on Hall, adopted a rule whereby trial courts should factor in the standard error of measurement. Lane II, ___ So.3d at ___.

         As for Lane, however, the Court of Criminal Appeals determined that Hall afforded him no relief. The court noted that Lane had an IQ test score of 70 and that he had been allowed to present the trial court with evidence relating to deficits ...

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