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State v. White – Case Brief Summary (Ohio)

In State v. White, 118 Ohio St. 3d 12, 2008 Ohio 1623, 885 N.E.2d 905 (Ohio 2008), the Supreme Court of Ohio reversed the trial court's finding that White failed to prove significant deficiencies in adaptive behavior.

In its opinion, the court focused on concerns similar to those advanced by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) as to improperly focusing on an individual's demonstrated adaptive skills and placing too much importance on lay testimony regarding White's demonstrated adaptive skills:

The mentally retarded are not necessarily devoid of all adaptive skills. Indeed, "they may look relatively normal in some areas and have certain significant limitations in other areas." Mildly retarded persons can play sports, write, hold jobs, and drive. Dr. Hammer testified that in determining whether a person is mentally retarded, one must focus on those adaptive skills the person lacks, not on those he possesses.

The trial court's analysis appears to disregard this testimony. For example, the trial court's opinion mentions twice that White was a licensed driver. However, Dr. Hammer testified that a mildly retarded individual can qualify for a driver's license and that licensed-driver status is not a good criterion for distinguishing between people who are and are not retarded.

. . . .

The trial court's analysis was also misdirected in stressing that White's family and peers did not perceive White to be lacking in adaptive behavior skills. Both experts testified that laymen cannot easily recognize mild mental retardation. . . .

. . . In light of Dr. Hammer's unrebutted testimony, the impressions of White's peers . . . lend no support to the findings of the trial court. (White, 885 N.E.2d at 914-15.)

While the Ohio Supreme Court recognized that a trial court is the trier of fact, the court concluded that the trial court abused its discretion in making this determination by disregarding "credible and uncontradicted expert testimony in favor of . . . the court's own expectations of how a mentally retarded person would behave." Id. at 915.