Death penalty

  • July 25, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Justin Marceau and Alan K. Chen. Marceau is an associate professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a former public defender in Arizona. Chen is the William M. Beaney Memorial Research Chair and Professor of law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a former staff attorney at the ACLU’s Chicago office.

    The State of Arizona’s recently botched execution of Joseph Wood is just the latest in a series of horrific events that have introduced the American public to a criminal justice problem that practitioners and legal scholars long have known about – lethal injections are an extremely troubling method for carrying out capital punishment.  Similar to the cases of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma and Dennis McGuire in Ohio, Wood reportedly endured extensive suffering during the hour and 52 minutes it took for the drugs administered by the state’s executioners to end his life.

    The Wood Litigation Seeking Access to Information about the Drugs and Executioners

    In the days preceding Wood’s execution, his attorneys mounted an impressive campaign to overturn a lower court order denying him access to basic information about the qualifications (but not the identity) of the executioners and the source of the drugs to be used. Wood argued that he had a qualified First Amendment right of access to such information. 

    On Monday of this week, things looked promising for Wood and his legal team. An erudite panel of the Ninth Circuit concluded that it was not too much to ask of Arizona to require it to turn over the information Wood sought, or to delay the execution. Behind such litigation is the reality that without such information, of course, it would be impossible to assess whether the execution might violate the Eighth Amendment and create too great a risk of cruel and unusual punishment.  In other words, in order to know whether their client had a colorable substantive claim that the execution would be cruel and unusual, the lawyers first had to gain access to the details of the execution procedures. The procedural claim at issue in the Ninth Circuit, then, was a necessary precursor to being able to litigate the substantive legality of Arizona’s execution system.

    The Ninth Circuit panel voted 2-1 that Wood had raised a serious First Amendment claim and would suffer irreparable harm if an injunction against his execution were not granted. To be clear, all the Ninth Circuit ordered was that Arizona either turn over the information and proceed to execution as planned on Wednesday, or delay the execution until full and fair litigation regarding the right to access this information was conducted. Instead, Arizona successfully petitioned the Supreme Court, which quickly overturned the stay of execution.

    Was this Just a Gimmick to Delay Litigation?

    Some might ask why, with a thirty year track record and tacit Supreme Court approval in 2008, lawyers were inquiring about lethal injection methods.  We hear about delays in executions – we even see California’s death penalty held unconstitutional, in part, because of delay. But the reason for the litigation is clear: lethal injection is not working. 

    With drug shortages for the previous three-drug execution cocktail of choice, states have begun to experiment with the doses and types of drugs, and the qualifications of executioners are not getting any better.  In a very perverse turn on Justice Louis Brandeis’ famous quote that states may “serve as a laboratory, and try novel . . . experiments” that the rest of the country might not, states are innovating in their execution methods.  In the rush to continue with executions, Arizona and other states are using their execution chambers as laboratories for human experimentation.  What combination will create the most aesthetically pleasing execution for public consumption is the question the Departments of Correction seek to answer. 

  • July 24, 2014

    by Ellery Weil

    At The Week, Andrew Cohen discusses Wednesday’s botched execution of Arizona inmate Joseph Wood, a “state-sponsored, judicially sanctioned human experiment that went terribly wrong.” For more on botched executions, ACS held a call this past May featuring Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick and Megan McCracken, Eighth Amendment Resource Counsel with the U.C. Berkeley School of Law's Death Penalty Clinic, to discuss the execution of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett.

    Matt Ford of the Atlantic discusses the mass incarceration crisis, and its broader effects on the nation.

    Dominic Perella speculates on the probability that this week’s decisions in Halbig and King will result in the Affordable Care Act going back before the Supreme Court on msnbc.

    Writing for The Washington Post, Daniel Hertz explains the legacy of Milliken v. Bradley, and how 40 years later, its legacy continues to haunt our school systems.

  • July 23, 2014

    by Ellery Weil

    Nicholas Bagley argues at The Incidental Economist that the method of statutory interpretation used by the majority in Halbig v. Burwell “leads to a result so manifestly at odds with what Congress actually meant.”

    In Politico, Abbe Gluck looks at Halbig and how the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit “bent over backwards” to interpret the statute in a way that “no one who followed the enactment of the Affordable Care Act actually thinks Congress intended.”

    Amanda Hess of Slate questions whether Johns Hopkins’ recent settlement in a class-action suit against an abusive gynecologist is trying to provide a quick-fix legal and financial solution in a case where there are far larger issues of class bias and institutional disenfranchisement at play.

    Orin Kerr mentions at The Volokh Conspiracy that the Supreme Court has reversed the Ninth Circuit’s decision on Ryan v. Wood, the Arizona lethal injection case.

  • July 22, 2014

    by Ellery Weil

    At Vox, Adrianna McIntyre explains today’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Halbig v. Burwell, the “greatest existential threat” to the Affordable Care Act since NFIB v. Sebelius. Abbe Gluck explains at Balkinization why the opinion in Halbig “does a disservice to textualism.”

    Katie McDonough takes to Salon and discusses the case of a nurse in Florida who is suing a Tampa-area medical center for religious discrimination after they told the nurse that her objections to prescribing birth control made her ineligible for a position with their reproductive health department.

    The Associated Press reports on Arizona’s decision to appeal to the Supreme Court a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit which prohibited the execution of an Arizona death row inmate because the state refused to disclose the lethal injection drug cocktail it planned to use.

    Naureen Shah at Al Jazeera America discusses a report by Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School which claims that not only are the FBI’s current counterterrorism stings violating basic rights, they are targeting the wrong people, sowing distrust of the government, and failing to stop legitimate threats.

  • July 14, 2014
    BookTalk
    The Wrong Carlos
    Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution
    By: 
    James S. Liebman

    by James S. Liebman, Simon H. Rifkind Professor of Law, Columbia Law School, and Shawn Crowley, Andrew Markquart, Lauren Rosenberg, Lauren Gallo White and Daniel Zharkovsky

    Do states with the death penalty execute innocent people? That is the fundamental question at the heart of The Wrong Carlos, a book I recently published with student coauthors.

    It is also the question facing the American public following a series of devastating developments for death penalty supporters. March brought news of the 144th death row exoneration. In April, we learned that Oklahoma had botched Clayton Lockett’s execution, leaving him awake during a massive drug-induced heart attack. The Supreme Court found in May that Florida remains hell bent on executing defendants too mentally disabled to be condemned. And in June—for the first time—a majority of Americans indicated in a poll that they prefer life without parole to capital punishment.

    Death penalty supporters are left clinging to a single promise often made but never substantiated—a promise repeated by Justice Scalia in a 2006 opinion: Whatever else we do, we don’t execute the innocent.

    I began thinking about this question between 2000 and 2003, when colleagues and I issued our Broken System studies documenting judicial findings of accuracy-impugning error in two-thirds of all U.S. capital cases reviewed between 1973 and 1995.

    Our studies sparked a heated debate over two competing interpretations. Did the courts’ discovery of so many errors prove the system worked? Or do high error rates mean it is almost certain that courts miss other errors, allowing the innocent to be executed?