Moore v. Texas

PETITIONER: Bobby James Moore
LOCATION: Harris County Criminal Justice Center

DOCKET NO.: 15-797
LOWER COURT: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

GRANTED: Jun 06, 2016
ARGUED: Nov 29, 2016

Clifford M. Sloan - for petitioner
Scott A. Keller - for respondent

Facts of the case

In 1980, Bobby James Moore was convicted of capital murder for the shooting of James McCarble, a seventy-year-old store clerk, in Houston, Texas. Moore was sentenced to death, and his conviction and sentence were both affirmed on appeal. After a federal court granted habeas corpus relief, a new punishment hearing occurred in 2001, and Moore was again sentenced to the death penalty. His sentence was again affirmed on appeal. Moore sought state habeas relief and argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Atkins v. Virginia should apply to his case; therefore, because he was intellectually disabled, he was exempt from execution. The habeas court granted relief based on the Atkins argument. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, however, reversed and held that Moore had failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that he had the requisite intellectual disability for the Atkins precedent to apply based on Texas case law that used a 1992 definition of intellectual disability.


  1. Does the use of outdated medical standards regarding intellectual disability to determine whether a person is exempt from execution violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment as well as the Atkins v. Virginia precedent?

Media for Moore v. Texas

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 29, 2016 in Moore v. Texas

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

We'll hear argument this morning in Case No. 15-797, Moore v. Texas. Mr. Sloan.

Clifford M. Sloan:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court: In Atkins v. Virginia, this Court held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits executing people who are intellectually disabled.

And in Hall v. Florida, this Court reiterated that the inquiry into whether somebody is intellectually disabled for that important Eighth Amendment purpose should be informed by the medical community's diagnostic framework and by clinical standards. Texas has adopted a unique approach to intellectual disability in capital cases in which it prohibits the use of current medical standards.

It relies on harmful and inappropriate lay stereotypes, including the so-called Briseno factors.

It uses an extraordinary, virtually insuperable, and clinically unwarranted causation requirement.

And most fundamentally, it challenges and disagrees with this Court's core holding in Atkins; namely, that the entire category of the intellectually disabled, every person who is intellectually disabled, is exempt from execution under the Eighth Amendment.

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Those are --

Anthony M. Kennedy:

I -- I -- excuse me, Chief Justice.

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

That's a long laundry list of objections you have.

Your question presented, though, focused only on one, which is that it prohibits the use of current medical standards and requires outdated medical standards.

And I think several of the other points you made are not encompassed within that question presented.

And maybe there are questions that should be looked at, but they don't seem to be covered by that. I mean, in what -- you mentioned the correspondence with clinical practices.

Has that changed? Did Texas similarly depart from clinical practices under the old standard as it is under the new?

Clifford M. Sloan:

It -- it did.

The prohibition on the use of current medical standards aggravates and exacerbates that. But if I could address Your Honor's question about the -- the question presented, because I'd like to make two points with regard to that, Your Honor, which is that, first of all, it is woven into the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' decision and the judgment that is before the Court, because the Texas court grounded its determination on the prohibition of consulting and using current medical standards on its Briseno opinion and Briseno framework.

And the Court said, what we decided in Briseno in 2004, that framework governs, including the clinical standards at the time, but also its view that medical standards generally are exceedingly subjective. That was very important to the Court in its determination here.

It's at 6a of the Petition Appendix --

Elena Kagan:

Well, Mr. Sloan, can I --

Anthony M. Kennedy:

I have the same question as -- as the Chief Justice.

It -- it just seems to me the question presented doesn't cut to the heart of the case as you describe it. My understanding of your argument -- and again, I don't think it's wholly reflected in that question -- is that whether you use the most current or even slightly -- slightly older medical standards, there is still a conflict. Am I right about that, that that's your theory?

Clifford M. Sloan:

Yes, Your Honor.

And if I could add one point, though, it is that the current clinical standards accentuate the conflict, make it even more clear.

And what has happened with the --

Elena Kagan:

We wouldn't need that, would we, Mr. Sloan? We could say that the Briseno standards are in conflict with the old Atkins standards, as well as the new ones.

There wouldn't need to be a difference between the old ones and the new ones for you to win this case.

Clifford M. Sloan:

That's correct, Your Honor.

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

But you got in the door by a question presented that is a little more eye-catching, which is that they prohibit the current standards and rely on the outdated one.

And that's all it says.

And I'm just wondering if you got yourself in the door with a -- with a dramatic question presented and are now going back to a concern that was just as present, as I understand your argument, under the old standards. .

Clifford M. Sloan:

Two points on that, Your Honor. First, again as I was saying, it is woven into the court of criminal appeals' decision.