Supreme Court Denies Hearing on Death Row Inmate’s Claim of Intellectual Disability

April 7, 2016

The Tennessee Supreme Court has denied a request by a death row inmate to have a hearing to determine whether he is eligible to be executed because he is intellectually disabled, concluding that the procedural avenues he sought to use in this case do not entitle him to such a hearing.

Pervis Tyrone Payne was convicted by a Shelby County jury in 1988 of two counts of first degree murder and one count of assault with intent to commit first degree murder. Mr. Payne was sentenced to death for each of the two murders. The convictions and sentences were upheld by the Tennessee Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court in the early 1990s. Since then, Mr. Payne has pursued numerous secondary reviews of the case in the state and federal courts, all of which were unsuccessful.

In 2001, the Tennessee Supreme Court held that the federal and state constitutions prohibit the execution of individuals who are intellectually disabled. In this case, Mr. Payne asserted that he is entitled to a hearing to determine whether he meets the legal definition of intellectually disabled.

The Court determined that the many theories advanced by Mr. Payne do not create a right to a hearing on his claim of intellectual disability. One of the theories considered by the Court included Mr. Payne’s reliance on a recent United States Supreme Court decision from Florida, Hall v. Florida, regarding the use of IQ scores and other factors in determining intellectual disability. The Tennessee Supreme Court held that Hall did not apply retroactively and thus did not provide an avenue for the hearing that Mr. Payne was seeking in this case.

Read the unanimous opinion in Pervis Tyrone Payne v. State of Tennessee, authored by Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins.