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
- 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;
- 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;
- 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
- 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.
- Garrett Epps, The Machinery of Death is Back on the Docket, The Atlantic (Sept. 18, 2018).
- Tanya Albert Henry, AMA to Supreme Court: Doctor Participation in Executions Unethical, American Medical Association (Aug. 22, 2018).