eighth amendment

Bucklew v. Precythe

Issues 

When an inmate with a rare and severe medical condition brings an as-applied challenge to a state’s method of execution, should the court assume that the execution will go as planned? And is the inmate constitutionally required to prove an alternative method of execution? Here, did Russell Bucklew meet his burden to prove the procedures of his proposed alternative method and the degree of pain he would likely suffer, and did he show how they compare to the method he challenges?

This case asks the Supreme Court to determine whether a death row inmate challenging an execution method must prove a feasible alternative execution method when the challenged method will allegedly inflict an unconstitutional level of pain as applied to the inmate’s medical condition. Russell Bucklew argues that the state should bear the burden of proving an alternative method in such an “as-applied” challenge. He reasons that because there is no risk that the challenged execution method will be outlawed in its entirety and because the state is in the best position to evaluate the effect of existing execution methods on the inmate’s medical condition, the Court should place the burden on the state. The Department of Corrections (“DOC”) argues that the inmate in an “as-applied” challenge case should bear this burden. The DOC notes that the inmate would be able to obtain an exemption from capital punishment and needlessly delay their execution by bringing meritless claims if the Court placed the burden on the state rather than on the inmate. The Supreme Court’s decision in this case will impact the ability of inmates to challenge execution methods, the administrability of common execution methods such as lethal injection, and the effect of the capital punishment process on drug regulators, physicians, and state corrections officers.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

  1. Whether a court evaluating an as-applied challenge to a state’s method of execution based on an inmate’s rare and severe medical condition should assume that medical personnel are competent to manage his condition and that the procedure will go as intended;
  2. Whether evidence comparing a state’s method of execution with an alternative proposed by an inmate must be offered via a single witness, or whether a court at summary judgment must look to the record as a whole to determine whether a factfinder could conclude that the two methods significantly differ in the risks they pose to the inmate;
  3. Whether the Eighth Amendment requires an inmate to prove an adequate alternative method of execution when raising an as-applied challenge to the state’s proposed method of execution based on his rare and severe medical condition; and
  4. Whether petitioner Russell Bucklew met his burden under Glossip v. Gross to prove what procedures would be used to administer his proposed alternative method of execution, the severity and duration of pain likely to be produced, and how they compare to the state’s method of execution.

In March 1996, Russell Bucklew followed his former girlfriend, Stephanie Ray, to the trailer home of Michael Sanders, where she was living. Bucklew v. Precythe (“Precythe”) at 1–2. Bucklew entered the trailer and shot Sanders. Id. While Sanders bled to death, Bucklew handcuffed Ray, dragged her into his car, and drove away.

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Williams v. Pennsylvania

Issues 

Do the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments require an appellate judge’s recusal in a capital punishment appeal when the judge, previously a district attorney, oversaw the office that prosecuted the same case?

 

In 1984, Terrance Williams was sentenced to death for the murder of Amos Norwood. After successfully receiving post-conviction sentencing relief in 2012, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed and reinstated Williams’ sentence. In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments require the recusal of an appellate judge—here Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald Castille—from participation in a capital punishment appeal when the judge led the District Attorney’s Office that prosecuted the same case. Williams argues that due process compels recusal, given the risk of potential bias and partiality that may taint both the judge’s decision-making and the reviewing tribunal’s impartiality. However, Pennsylvania argues that Justice Castille’s recusal was not constitutionally required under the Court’s holding in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., 556 U.S. 868 (2009), nor was his presence on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. This case will impact an appellate judge’s ability to make discretionary determinations regarding his or her own recusal.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

  1. Whether the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments violated where the presiding Chief Justice of a state supreme court declines to recuse himself in a capital case where he had personally approved the decision to pursue capital punishment against Petitioner in his prior capacity as elected District Attorney and continued to head the District Attorney’s office that defended the death verdict on appeal; where, in his state supreme court election campaign, the Chief Justice expressed strong support for capital punishment, with reference to the number of defendants he had “sent” to death row, including Petitioner; and where he then, as Chief Justice, reviewed a ruling by the state post-conviction court that his office committed prosecutorial misconduct under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), when it prosecuted and sought death against Petitioner?
  2. Whether the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments violated by the participation of a potentially biased jurist on a multimember tribunal deciding a capital case, regardless of whether his vote is ultimately decisive?

On June 11, 1984, Terrance Williams and Marc Draper robbed and murdered Amos Norwood.  See Brief for Petitioner at 4.  The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, under the leadership of then-District Attorney Ronald Castille, prosecuted the defendants.  

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Smith v. Texas

Issues 

If the Supreme Court reversed and remanded Smith’s case to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals after finding that the jury had not been able to adequately consider the mitigating evidence, was the Court of Criminal Appeals’ finding that the violation was a harmless error consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision?

Must a defendant prove that a jury instruction that violated his constitutional rights caused him egregious harm?

 

LaRoyce Lathair Smith, who was sentenced to death in 1991, appears before the Supreme Court for the second time. Smith argues that the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals denied his petition for state habeas corpus relief in contravention of the analysis standards handed down in the Supreme Court’s first opinion. In addition, Smith argues that the Criminal Court of Appeals applied a heightened egregious harm standard to a procedural issue that it failed to consider on direct appeal. Texas, on the other hand, contends that the Criminal Court of Appeals was justified in reconsidering issues not addressed by the Supreme Court and asserts that the standards applied were the prevailing state standards for evaluating Smith’s claim. The Supreme Court’s decision in this case should clarify the proper way for state courts to evaluate defendants’ claims attacking the constitutionality of jury instructions regarding mitigating evidence during the sentencing phase of capital cases.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

In Smith v. Texas, 543 U.S. 37 (2004), this Court summarily reversed the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and found constitutional error under Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302 (1989) (Penry I), and Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782 (2001) (Penry II). Is it consistent with this Court’s remand in this case for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to deem the error in petitioner’s case harmless based on its view that jurors were in fact able to give adequate consideration and effect to petitioner’s mitigating evidence notwithstanding this Court’s conclusion to the contrary?

Can the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, based on a procedural determination that it declined to adopt in its original decision that this Court then summarily reversed, impose on remand a daunting standard of harm (“egregious harm”) to the constitutional violation found by this Court?

In 1991, 19 year old LaRoyce Lathair Smith was convicted of the capital murder of his coworker, who Smith had pistol whipped and shot. Smith v. Texas, 543 U.S. 37, 38 (2004) (“Smith I”). After Smith was convicted, the jury was tasked with deciding Smith’s sentence. Id. at 39.

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Smith v. Spisak

Issues 

Whether the Sixth Circuit applied the proper standards for determining whether a convicted murderer was unfairly affected by jury instructions and his own counsel’s statements during sentencing, when counsel repeatedly referred to the terrible nature of his own client’s acts in closing arguments at the penalty phase of the trial.

 

Respondent, Frank Spisak (“Spisak”), was convicted on four counts of aggravated murder and four other felony counts for engaging in a shooting spree on and around Cleveland State University in 1982. The jury recommended, and the judge accepted, a death sentence. After the Ohio state courts denied Spisak’s appeals, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ordered a new penalty phase of the trial. The Circuit Court held that defense counsel’s deficient performance during the trial’s sentencing phase functionally denied Spisak his Sixth Amendment right to effective legal representation. The Sixth Circuit held further that the jury instructions regarding sentencing violated the Eighth Amendment, because the jury may have misunderstood them to require a unanimous rejection of the death penalty before considering a life sentence. On its second time before the United States Supreme Court, Ohio argues that the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") requires the federal courts to defer to the Ohio Supreme Court's decision to deny Spisak’s Sixth and Eighth Amendment claims.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

  1. Did the Sixth Circuit contravene the directives of the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") and Carey v. Musladin, 127 S. Ct. 649 (2006), when it applied Mills v. Maryland, 486 U.S. 367 (1988), to resolve in a habeas petitioner's favor questions that were not decided or addressed in Mills?
  2. Did the Sixth Circuit exceed its authority under AEDPA when it applied United States v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648 (1984), to presume that a habeas petitioner suffered prejudice from several allegedly deficient statements made by his trial counsel during closing argument instead of deferring to the Ohio Supreme Court's reasonable rejection of the claim under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984)?

In 1983, Frank Spisak (“Spisak”) was convicted of murdering a minister and three students in a racially and homophobically motivated shooting spree at Cleveland State University and was sentenced to death. In 1984, the Ohio Court of Appeals for the Eighth District affirmed the three aggravated murder convictions and death sentence, which were subsequently upheld by the O

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Acknowledgments 

The authors would like to thank Professor John Blume and Professor Faust Rossi for their insights on this case. John Blume is a Professor of Law at Cornell Law School and the Director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project. Faust Rossi is the Samuel S. Leibowitz Professor of Trial Techniques at Cornell University and a co-author of the Brief of Amici Curiae Steven Lubet, et al., in support of Respondent.

Additional Resources 

·      Wex: Law about Criminal Procedure

·      Capital Punishment in Context: Juror’s Understandings and Misunderstandings

·      Charles Doyle, Federation of American Scientists: Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty (Jun. 3, 1996)

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Schwarzenegger v. Plata

Issues 

1. Did the three-judge district court have jurisdiction to issue an order releasing inmates from California prisons?

2. If the district court did have jurisdiction, was the prison release order the only option capable of providing adequate physical and mental health services to California inmates while still preserving public safety?

 

Plata v. Schwarzenegger and Coleman v. Schwarzenegger were separate class actions concerning healthcare conditions in California state prisons. Although the cases were decided separately, they resulted in similar outcomes: the district court in each case determined that the lack of adequate physical or mental care violated the prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights, leading to years of court orders designed to remedy the violations. After California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency due to prison overcrowding in 2006, the Plata and Coleman plaintiffs argued that the only means of remedying the continued constitutional violations was the release of significant numbers of inmates from state prisons. Subsequently, a three-judge district court convened under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) issued a prisoner release order. Governor Schwarzenegger and other state officials (“Schwarzenegger”) appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. They contend that the three-judge district court improperly applied the PLRA because California had not had sufficient time to implement the latest court order. Schwarzenegger also contends that the district court failed to determine that overcrowding was the primary cause of the violations. In response, the Plata and Coleman plaintiffs, along with the California Correctional Police Officers’ Association, argue that the PLRA was properly applied because the state was given a reasonable amount of time to comply with previous court orders and the prisoner release order remedied the primary cause of the violations. The Supreme Court’s decision will determine when courts may remedy constitutional violations through a prisoner release order under the PLRA, and could dramatically alter the number of prisoners and the services provided in California prisons.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

1. Whether the three-judge district court had jurisdiction to issue a “prisoner release order” pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 18 U.S.C. § 3626.

2. Whether the court below properly interpreted and applied Section 3626(a)(3)(E), which requires a three-judge court to find, by clear and convincing evidence, that “crowding is the primary cause of the violation of a Federal right; and . . . no other relief will remedy the violation of the Federal right” in order to issue a “prisoner release order.”

3. Whether the three-judge court’s “prisoner release order,” which was entered to address the allegedly unconstitutional delivery of medical and mental health care to two classes of California inmates, but mandates a system-wide population cap within two years that will require a population reduction of approximately 46,000 inmates, satisfies the PLRA’s nexus and narrow tailoring requirements while giving sufficient weight to potential adverse effects on public safety and the State’s operation of its criminal justice system.

The plaintiffs in Coleman v.

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Acknowledgments 

The authors would like to thank former Supreme Court Reporter of Decisions Frank Wagner for his assistance in editing this preview.

Additional Resources 

· Los Angeles Times, David G. Savage: California Prison Release Order on Hold Pending Supreme Court Review (Jan. 19, 2010)

· McClatchy Newspapers, Michael Doyle: Supreme Court to Hear California’s Appeal of Prison Release Order (June 14, 2010)

· Harvard Law Review: Recent Cases – Coleman v. Schwarzenegger

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Madison v. State of Alabama

Issues 

Does the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment bar the execution of a prisoner with vascular dementia, who has no memory of his crime and the circumstances surrounding his imprisonment?

The Supreme Court will decide if it is lawful to execute a man who—years after committing murder—developed vascular dementia that affects his ability to understand his surroundings and prevents him from remembering the facts of his crime. Petitioner Vernon Madison contends that a broad range of mental conditions can prohibit defendants from understanding the circumstances of their executions and thus should prevent lawful execution of such defendants. The State of Alabama counters that a defendant’s memory of the murder is irrelevant to the analysis of whether the defendant’s execution is unlawful under the Eighth Amendment. The American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association, in support of Madison call for an expansion of the category of mental disabilities that can render a person incompetent to be lawfully executed and contend that the execution of inmates with dementia would not serve deterrence purposes. However, fourteen states writing in support Alabama distinguish dementia and other age-related disabilities from intellectual disability and add that the retributive aspects of the death penalty are important enough to allow the execution of inmates with dementia and other age-related mental disorders. Accordingly, the Court’s decision will affect defendants who are exempt from execution as well as the litigation strategy of death row inmates as they approach the age of onset for age-related mental disorders during the lengthy appeals process.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Whether, consistent with the Eighth Amendment, and the Supreme Court’s decisions in Ford v. Wainwright and Panetti v. Quarterman, a state may execute a prisoner whose mental disability leaves him with no memory of his commission of the capital offense.

Whether evolving standards of decency and the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment bar the execution of a prisoner whose competency has been compromised by vascular dementia and multiple strokes causing severe cognitive dysfunction and a degenerative medical condition that prevents him from remembering the crime for which he was convicted or understanding the circumstances of his scheduled execution.

In 1985, Petitioner Vernon Madison shot and killed Officer Julius Schulte in Mobile, Alabama and was sentenced to death by a jury for capital murder.

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The authors would like to thank Professor John H. Blume for his insights.

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Roper v. Simmons

Issues 

Roper v. Simmons presents the Supreme Court with two questions: whether or not the execution of those who were sixteen or seventeen at the time of a crime is "cruel and unusual" and whether the lower courts may analyze evolving standards in order to determine the former. The Court will likely rely upon the principles in Atkins to determine whether or not to overturn its conflicting decision in Stanford v. Kentucky (492 U.S. 361 (1989)). Legislative activity since Stanford has significantly changed, and this change is bolstered by the views of germane organizations and the decreasing number of states imposing the death penalty on juvenile offenders. See Id. The Court will thus determine whether the weight of this evidence is enough to overcome the goals served by the death penalty.

Court below: 

 

Christopher Simmons was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for first degree murder for a crime that he committed at age 17. He appealed as of right to the Missouri Supreme Court, which exercises exclusive jurisdiction in death penalty case. In 1997, the Missouri Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and the sentence. State v. Simmons, 944 S.W.2d 165, 169 (Mo. 1997). On his initial appeal, Simmons could not argue that his youth prohibited his execution because the United States Supreme Court held in 1989 that there was no national consensus against the execution of young adults who were sixteen or seventeen years old at the time of their crimes, and that, as a result, executing juveniles was not cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth AmendmentSee Simmons v. Roper, 112 S.W.3d 397, 399 (Mo. 2003) (en banc) (discussing Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U.S. 361 (1989)). The Missouri Supreme Court thus affirmed the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Missouri on both the conviction and death sentence. See id.

In 2002, the United States Supreme Court reversed Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302 (1989), which held that a national consensus did not exist against execution of the mentally retarded. Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002). In Atkins, the Supreme Court concluded that such a consensus had developed in the thirteen years since Penry and that executing the mentally retarded violates the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 321. Hoping that the Supreme Court's ruling in Atkins might signal a parallel shift in the Court's view toward the execution of juvenile offenders, Simmons appeared before the Missouri Supreme Court again in 2003 on a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that a national consensus opposing the execution of sixteen- and seventeen-year-old offenders had emerged since Stanford v. KentuckySimmons, 112 S.W.3d at 399. The Missouri Supreme Court agreed, reasoning that "the Supreme Court would today hold such executions are prohibited by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments." Id. at 400.

The United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Simmons' case in order to address two specific issues. First, the Court will consider whether a lower court may contradict a previous ruling by the Supreme Court. Specifically, the Court will decide whether it was permissible for the Missouri Supreme Court to conclude that the execution of juvenile offenders is cruel and unusual punishment and violates the Eighth Amendment, in direct contradiction to the Supreme Court's ruling in Stanford v. Kentucky. Second, the Supreme Court will decide for itself whether a national consensus now opposes the execution of offenders younger than eighteen years and, therefore, whether the practice now violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

1. Once the Supreme Court holds that a particular punishment is not "cruel and unusual" and thus barred by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, can a lower court reach a contrary decision based on its own analysis of evolving standards?

2. Is the imposition of the death penalty on a person who commits a murder at age seventeen "cruel and unusual," and thus barred by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments?

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Panetti v. Quarterman

Issues 

Does the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual” punishment ban the execution of a mentally ill prisoner, who, although he knows that he has committed a crime and has been sentenced to death, manifests insane delusions about the real reasons for his execution? What is the standard for determining how “aware” a mentally ill prisoner must be of the reason for his sentence before he may be legally executed?

 

In 1992, Panetti killed his parents-in-law by shooting them at close range inside their Texas home while his wife and daughter watched in terror. After surrendering to police, Panetti was tried, convicted of murder, and sentenced to death. Panetti, however, suffers from a long history of mental illness including schizoaffective disorder. Although he understands that he killed two people and he knows that the state’s stated reason for his execution is because of the murders, he believes that the state actually intends to execute him in order to carry out a satanic conspiracy against him. Panetti petitioned both the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for a writ of habeas corpus, but both courts upheld Panetti’s execution on the grounds that he is “aware” of his death sentence and its stated purpose. Panetti argues that “awareness” is not enough and that a prisoner must also have a “rational understanding” of the connection between his crime and punishment. By accepting certiorari review of this case, the Supreme Court of the United States will determine whether executing a mentally ill prisoner who lacks “rational understanding” of the reasons for his execution would violate the Eighth Amendment.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Does the Eighth Amendment permit the execution of a death row inmate who has a factual awareness of the reason for his execution but who, because of severe mental illness, has a delusional belief as to why the state is executing him, and thus does not appreciate that this execution is intended to seek retribution for his capital crime?

On September 8, 1992, Scott Louis Panetti, dressed in camouflage military fatigues and donning a recently shaved head, fired a sawed off shotgun at Mr. and Mrs. Alvarado, his parents-in-law, killing them instantly. See Brief for Petitioner Panettiat 7.

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Law about…Death Penalty

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Oregon v. Guzek

Court below: 

 

Randy Lee Guzek, along with his friends Mark Wilson and Ross Cathey, murdered an Oregon couple in the summer of 1987. After eighteen years of litigation, involving three different appeals, the Oregon Supreme Court held that the alibi testimony Guzek attempted to introduce during the sentencing phase of his trial—statements from his grandfather and his mother placing him at home during the time of the crime—could be introduced as “mitigating evidence” tending to show that Guzek should not receive the death penalty. The State of Oregon took issue with this ruling, and appealed to the Supreme Court. It argues that such evidence cannot be admitted because the so-called “residual doubt” evidence is no longer relevant at the sentencing phase of a defendant’s capital trial. Guzek, on the other hand, argues that the Constitution requires admittance of such evidence at his sentencing phase—he claims that the jury will not improperly use this evidence and that in order to meet the state’s case and refute the state’s evidence, he must be able to introduce the so-called “residual doubt” evidence. The Supreme Court will decide whether Guzek is correct, and whether the trial court is Constitutionally required to admit this “residual doubt” evidence, despite the fact that it might introduce doubt about Guzek’s previously determined and settled guilt.

Randy Lee Guzek has been before the Oregon Supreme Court on three occasions between 1990 and 2004, all regarding the sentencing phase of a capital trial in which he was convicted for the murders of Rod and Lois Houser. Because of the errors in the lower court and intervening new law instituted during the more than fifteen years of Guzek’s trial, the state’s highest court has repeatedly affirmed Guzek’s guilt in the murders, but vacated the jury’s sentence of death.

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Civil Forfeiture

Overview

Civil forfeiture occurs when the government seizes property under suspicion of its involvement in illegal activity. Such a proceeding is conducted in rem, or against the property itself, rather than in personam, or against the owner of the property; by contrast, criminal forfeiture is an in personam proceeding. For this reason, civil forfeiture case names often appear strange, such as United States v. Eight Rhodesian Stone Statues,

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