Fact Check from State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
June 6, 2001
Contact: Jeremy Warren, (512) 463-0113

Experts Agree: No Way to 'Fake' Mental Retardation

Texas law and medical practice have established a time-tested method for determining mental retardation. The determination is neither arbitrary nor objective. Moreover, there is no possibility of someone intentionally misrepresenting or "faking" mental retardation.

House Bill 236, legislation to ban on execution of persons with mental retardation, does not create a new system for determining mental retardation. The legislation, now awaiting the governor's signature, merely refers to language in the Texas Health and Safety Code that is similar to every other state with laws on the books banning the practice:

Section 591.003, Texas Health and Safety Code defines a person with mental retardation by establishing a strict, three prong test: 1) significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning that is concurrent with deficits in adaptive behavior and originates during the developmental period; 2) determined by a physician or psychologist licensed in this state or certified by the department to have subaverage general intellectual functioning with deficits in adaptive behavior; and 3) measured intelligence on standardized psychometric instruments of two or more standard deviations below the age-group mean for the tests used.

Of the 14 states with the death penalty that currently ban execution of the mentally retarded, every one defines mental retardation as significant subaverage intellectual functioning and impairment in adaptive behavior that occurs during development.

Opponents of the legislation have stated that the tests can somehow be thwarted. Mental health experts, however, from across Texas have disputed this assertion. When determinations of mental retardation are made, the three prong test is applied by direct examination in addition to an extensive evaluation of the person's developmental history. (Letter from Chesley Knowles, M.A., Sabine Valley Center, Longview, Texas, April 26, 2001)

Opponents have also criticized the use of an IQ score as a determiner of mental retardation. While House Bill 236 does not reference IQ scores, they are used as one indicator of mental retardation by psychiatrists and psychologists. However, IQ scores are rarely used in isolation. They are combined with other considerations of general intellectual functioning, such as development of mental retardation before age eighteen and deficits in adaptive behavior. Confidence in these measures is established in 100 years of extensive scientific research. (Letters from Kishore Sunkara, M.D., Fort Worth, April 23, 2001; Robert Young, Ph.D., Fort Worth, Texas, April 23, 2001; Ollie Seay, Ph.D., Austin Travis County MHMR, Austin, Texas, April 24, 2001; and William Landers, Ph.D., Harris County MHMR, Houston, Texas, April 24, 2001)