An extended stay on death row does not violate the Eighth Amendment, although the court contemplated this issue in Lackey v. Texas, 514 U.S. 1045 (1995). In Lackey, the Supreme Court denied certiorari to a defendant who claimed his 17 years on death row violated the Eighth Amendment. While the Court deferred to the discretion of lower courts on this issue, the decision left open the possibility of future Supreme Court review. The Supreme Court, however, has continued to deny certiorari in subsequent cases, including Foster v. Florida, 537 U.S. 990 (2002) (27 years on death row); Knight v. Florida, 528 U.S. 990 (1999) (19 years on death row); and Valle v. Florida, 132 S.Ct. 1 (2011) (33 years on death row).
Relying in part on the Supreme Court’s continued refusal to review the issue, lower Federal Courts have not found an extended stay on death row to be unconstitutional. In Smith v. Mahoney, 596 F.3d 1133 (2010), the Ninth Circuit held that 25 years on death row did not violate the Eighth Amendment. In Reed v. Quarterman, 504 F.3d 465 (2007), the Fifth Circuit held that a 24-year delay in execution did not violate the Eighth Amendment. In Thompson v. Sec'y for the Dep't of Corr., 517 F.3d 1279 (2008), the Eleventh Circuit held that 31 years on death row did not violate the Eighth Amendment.
[Last updated in June of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]