Supreme Court makes error in death penalty case of black inmate

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Bobby Moore has served 35 years in prison for murdering a grocery store clerk during a robbery when he was 20 years old. A Texas court sentenced him to death in 1980, and according to his lawyers, Moore has spent the past 15 years of his life in solitary confinement awaiting that punishment. His last hope for staying alive? The Supreme Court of the United States.

Although it decided to hear Moore’s case, the highest court in the land made a mistake in dealing with his appeal this week. The court initially accepted two questions Moore’s lawyers presented:

The first asks about whether or not outdated medical information regarding mental illness can be used to uphold an execution. Moore has an IQ of 70 and is intellectually disabled, which could prevent him from being executed. But an older standard used to measure his competency determined he was not mentally ill.

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The second question asks the court whether or not being on death row since 1980 counts as cruel and unusual punishment, per the constitution. With Moore spending 23 hours a day in a cell and having no inmate interaction, advocates argue this is a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

However, shortly after agreeing to hear both questions, the court then realized it intended to only answer the first question and two hours later threw the second one out.

The second question about solitary confinement could have had major implications for other death row inmates around the country. According to the Vera Institute for Justice, approximately 80,000 people are in solitary confinement around the country.

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When it comes to the death penalty, thus far the Supreme Court has been divided. In a dissent against capital punishment during a lethal injections case, Justice Stephen Breyer raised the issue of racial and other disparities coming into play during death penalty sentences. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg agreed.

“Rather than try to patch up the death penalty’s legal wounds one at a time, I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution,” Justice Breyer wrote.

The court will determine Moore’s fate when the case comes before them this fall.

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