Bobby James Moore has a lifelong intellectual disability, yet he sits on Texas’s death row because the courts there used John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” to decide his fate.That’s right—the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals went with a fictional novel over science and medicine to measure Bobby’s severe mental limitations. The justices heard a vast body of evidence demonstrating these limitations, which meet the widely accepted scientific standards for defining intellectual disability. Then they rejected it all according to seven wildly unscientific factors for measuring intellectual disability, drawn in large part from the fictional character Lennie Small. Bobby was no Lennie, they concluded, ruling that his disability wasn’t extreme enough to exempt him from the death penalty. On Friday, the Supreme Court will decide whether to take Bobby’s case.Executing people with intellectual disabilities is unconstitutional. The grey area is that the Supreme Court allows the states to define intellectual disability, leaving an opening for Texas to create a standard based partly on “Of Mice and Men.” With its decision in Hall v. Florida two years ago, though, the Supreme Court made clear that states may not adopt definitions of intellectual disability that don’t conform to accepted scientific standards. It’s hard to come up with a less scientific standard than a novel written nearly 80 years ago. No one’s life should depend on an interpretation of Steinbeck.
Lennie Smalls was never meant to appear in court. He is a figment of John Steinbeck’s imagination. Texas must stop using such unscientific factors as an excuse to execute people with intellectual disability who don’t fit Lennie’s mold. The Supreme Court must give Bobby a chance to live.
While I agree with the argument made by Anna Arceneaux, the ACLU lawyer who wrote the piece, it’s also a reminder of how dreadful most legal writing is. “Fictional novel” and “figment of John Steinbeck’s imagination” are phrases that could only be written by someone with no imagination whatsoever. Of course, Lennie should not be used to measure the level of a death penalty case defendant’s intelligence BUT fictional characters can tell us a great deal about the human condition. Where would I be without Miss Havisham?
I hope the conviction is reversed and someone takes a red pencil to the next piece by this do-gooder lawyer. It’s okay for Ms.Arceneaux to mess with Texas but don’t mess with John Steinbeck.
Tell me about the rabbits, Texas.