The NCSL Blog


By Lisa Soronen

In an unauthored opinion in Moore v. Texas II the Supreme Court concluded Bobby James Moore has an intellectual disability. In Atkins v. Virginia (2002) the Supreme Court held that persons with intellectual disabilities can’t be executed.

The Supreme Court sided Tuesday with a Texas convict who claimed his intellectual disability makes him ineligible for the death penalty. (Photo11: Jacquelyn Martin, AP)As the dissenting justices point out, the Supreme Court typically opines whether a lower court has correctly applied a standard and sends the case back to the lower court if it didn’t. The Supreme Court usually doesn’t apply the standard itself. It may have done so in this case because it previously held the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals failed to correctly apply the intellectual disability standard to Moore in Texas v. Moore (2017) (Moore I). 

According to the Supreme Court, “[a]t 13, Moore lacked basic understanding of the days of the week, the months of the year, and the seasons; he could scarcely tell time or comprehend the standards of measure or the basic principle that subtraction is the reverse of addition.” For a court to find intellectual disability, a person must have intellectual-functioning deficits and adaptive deficits that onset when the person was a minor.

While the trial court found that Moore had adaptive deficits of two or more standard deviations in all three adaptive skill sets (conceptual, social and practical), the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that Moore had not proven that he “possessed the requisite adaptive deficits.”

In Moore I, the Supreme Court criticized the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for five errors: overemphasizing Moore’s adaptive strengths; stressing Moore’s improved behavior in prison; concluding that Moore’s record of academic failure and child abuse detract from a “determination that his intellectual and adaptive deficits were related”; and requiring Moore to show his adaptive deficits were not related to a personality disorder.

The final error the Supreme Court pointed to in Moore I was the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reliance on a number of factors from a 2004 Texas Court of Criminal Appeals court decision, Ex parte Briseno, which the Supreme Court described as “having no grounding in prevailing medical practice,” and “invit[ing] ‘lay perceptions of intellectual disability’ and ‘lay stereotypes’ to guide assessment of intellectual disability.” 

In Moore I, the Supreme Court instructed the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to decide again whether Moore was intellectually disabled. It again concluded he wasn’t. 

In Moore II, the Supreme Court held the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals made many of the same mistakes it made in its first decision. “We have found in its opinion too many instances in which, with small variations, it repeats the analysis we previously found wanting, and these same parts are critical to its ultimate conclusion.”

With no additional analysis, the Supreme Court agreed with Moore (and the prosecutor in this case) that “on the basis of the trial court record, Moore has shown he is a person with intellectual disability.”

Lisa Soronen is executive director of the State and Local Legal Center and a frequent contributor to the NCSL Blog on judicial issues.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.