How Long Is Too Long to Sit on Death Row? SCOTUS Agrees to Hear Cruel and Unusual Argument

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear a case coming out of Texas, where a man was sentenced to die over 36 years ago.

Bobby James Moore faced a jury and a death penalty sentence back in 1980 for the killing of a store employee during an armed robbery of a grocery store in Houston, Texas.

Bobby James Moore has faced execution every day since then.  That's been 36 years of facing death.

How Long is Too Long to Wait To Execute Someone on Death Row?

Now, Mr. Moore's lawyers are arguing that being in this position for three and a half DECADES is cruel and unusual punishment.  

His constitutional rights have been violated because the Eighth Amendment protects him, and all citizens against cruel and unusual punishment. 

Is 15 Years in Solitary Confinement Awaiting Death Against the Constitution?

Important fact here:  since 2001, Mr. Moore has lived in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.  Alone, in a cell, every day 365 days a year, for the past 15 years.

(Moore also has a second issue before SCOTUS.  He's also arguing that the Eighth Amendment has been violated in his case because of the use of antiquated medical testing on his intellectual abilities in order to allow him to be executed at all.)

Read Moore's Petition as provided by SCOTUS blog here.

 

Annual Fast and Vigil Begins on June 29 in Washington DC

 

Each year, people who are opposed to the death penalty in this country come to the nation's capital to make their position known to the Powers that Be.

Fast and Vigil Begins on June 29

This year, beginning on June 29, 2016, and continuing through to July 2, 2016, they will be gathered at the steps of the United States Supreme Court in what's known as the annual Fast and Vigil. 

People come from all over the globe to the Fast and Vigil.  This will be its 23rd year, and you may need to register in order to attend some of the bigger events (there's speakers and lectures, all sorts of stuff). 

If you're interested in learning more about it, check out the details on the website,  as well as the resources provided by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP). 

Louisiana Executions on Hold for Now

The problem with lethal injection executions these days is that demand exceeds supply.  In a big, big way. 

Louisiana Death Penalty On Hold Because of Drug Supply for Lethal Injections

So much so that the State of Louisiana has put all its scheduled executions on hold while federal proceedings move forward that challenge the state's execution method. 

The Louisiana Department of Corrections has run out of drugs needed for executions and the Tulsa compounding pharmacy that was to be its new source of supply has run into big trouble over in Oklahoma.  Seems its facing thousands of allegations that it has violated state pharmacy regulations as it sold execution drugs to other states, like Missouri.

For details on the story, check out this article from the Death Penalty Information Center. 

And read our earlier posts about compounding pharmacies, too, like this one out of Georgia.

 

SCOTUS - Latest Death Penalty Opinions

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States issued two opinions that deal with capital punishment in this country. 

May 31 SCOTUS Death Penalty Opinions: Tucker and Lynch

Read them here:

The first one, coming out of Louisiana, upheld the death penalty sentence.  The second one, coming from Arizona, went against the death penalty in that case.

So, what can we learn from these two cases?  Well, reading and comparing them gives us a pretty clear picture of where the Justices stand on the issue.

In the Arizona case, Justices Thomas and Alito dissent.  They would have kept the man, Shawn Patrick Lynch, on Death Row based in part on the "sheer depravity" of the underlying homicide. (The majority ruled based upon the failure of the jury to be instructed that the sole option to a death sentence was life without parole.)

In the Louisiana case, Justices Breyer and Ginsberg dissent.  They looked to the geographical origins of the conviction, Caddo Parish, where almost "half the death sentences in Louisiana" arise even though "only 5% of that State's population" comes from there.

Death Row petitioner Lamondre Tucker might not have received the death penalty if he had been tried in another part of the state, and accordingly the dissenters would have granted his petition.

Importantly, Breyer and Ginsberg come right out and suggest that the High Court needs to re-consider its position on the death penalty, and if capital punishment is cruel and unusual punishment and therefore, unconstitutional. 

The big deal?  The empty seat. 

Why Should We Care About These Two Cases?

What will happen to the death penalty when someone finally puts on those black robes and starts to work in the place left by the recent death of Justice Scalia?  We read these opinions for clues, and ponder the future. 

What does the New York Times think? That these cases support the current position of SCOTUS;  they won't declare the death penalty unconstitutional, but they will work to find ways to limit its usage.  Do you agree?

Death Penalty Book List: Read More About Capital Punishment

Over on Goodreads, there is a list of books on the death penalty, putting together both fiction and non-fiction together in order of popularity.

Death Penalty Book List from Goodreads

For those who like to read about death penalty issues and capital punishment, here are the top ten on this Goodreads list -- how many have you read?


1. The Confession by John Grisham 

2. The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town by John Grisham
 
3. Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult 

4. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

5. Dead Man Walking: The Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty That Sparked a National Debate by Helen Prejean

6. The Chamber by John Grisham
 
7.  The Autobiography of an Execution by David R. Dow
 
8. The Green Mile by Stephen King
 
9. I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman
 
10. Life After Death by Damien Echols 

Happy Birthday Terence Lenamon!

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Pfizer Bans Use of Its Products in U.S. Executions

This week, Pfizer banned the use of its drug products in U.S. executions -- or anywhere else for that matter.  Pfizer isn't setting precedent here, as much as getting in line behind almost two dozen other drug manufacturers that have already announced a company ban on the capital punishment market.

Pfizer Bans Use of Seven Pfizer Products in Lethal Injection Executions

From Pfizer's news release (emphasis added):

Pfizer’s Position on Use of Our Products in Lethal Injections for Capital Punishment

Pfizer’s mission is to apply science and our global resources to improve health and well-being at every stage of life. We strive to set the standard for quality, safety and value in the discovery, development and manufacturing of medicines.

Pfizer makes its products to enhance and save the lives of the patients we serve. Consistent with these values, Pfizer strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for capital punishment.

Pfizer’s obligation is to ensure the availability of our products to patients who rely on them for medically necessary purposes. At the same time, we are enforcing a distribution restriction for specific products that have been part of, or considered by some states for their lethal injection protocols.

These products include pancuronium bromide, potassium chloride, propofol, midazolam, hydromorphone, rocuronium bromide and vecuronium bromide.

Pfizer’s distribution restriction limits the sale of these seven products to a select group of wholesalers, distributors, and direct purchasers under the condition that they will not resell these products to correctional institutions for use in lethal injections. Government purchasing entities must certify that products they purchase or otherwise acquire are used only for medically prescribed patient care and not for any penal purposes.

Pfizer further requires that these Government purchasers certify that the product is for “own use” and will not resell or otherwise provide the restricted products to any other party.

Pfizer will consistently monitor the distribution of these seven products, act upon findings that reveal noncompliance, and modify policies when necessary to remain consistent with our stated position against the improper use of our products in lethal injections. Importantly, this distribution system is also designed to ensure that these critical medications will remain immediately available to those patients who rely on them every day.

ABOUT THESE PRODUCTS: Propofol, pancuronium bromide, midazolam, hydromorphone, rocuronium bromide, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride are FDA-approved, medically necessary drugs administered by licensed medical professionals, thousands of times a day, in efforts to treat illness or save the lives of patients around the world. They are well established within the medical community and continue to serve important needs in surgical procedures and other treatments.

Pfizer offers these products because they save or improve lives, and markets them solely for use as indicated in the product labeling.

 

New Florida Death Penalty Law Also Unconstitutional Per Miami Judge

Last fall, SCOTUS ruled that the Florida death penalty law was unconstitutional.  Florida legislators immediately got to work revising the state's capital punishment statute and a new death penalty law went into effect not too long ago.

Now, Florida Circuit Court Judge Milton Hirsch has turned things on their heads regarding this revised statute by ruling it to be unconstitutional, as well. 

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Hirsch Finds New Florida Death Penalty Law Unconstitutional

Why?  Judge Hirsch finds that it is unconstitutional not to have a capital jury vote unanimously for the death penalty.  The new Florida law does not require all the jurors to vote for death in order for the defendant to be sentenced to death. 

What does this mean? 

1. New and Pending Matters

Prosecutors dealing with new and pending capital cases will face making trial decisions in the face of this new law being ruled unconstitutional by Judge Hirsch.

Criminal defense lawyers will have to deal with new and pending cases in the aftermath of this decision, too.

For more on this story, read the Miami Herald coverage today.

2. Convictions and Death Row

Meanwhile, for all those Death Row inmates who've already had a trial, they still await word on Hurst v. Florida, where the Florida Supreme Court will be ruling on whether or not they get new sentencing hearings, etc. 

For more on that case (including reading the amicus brief filed by Terence Lenamon / Florida Capital Resource Center) read last week's post.

Read Hirsch Opinion in Terence Lenamon Online Library

Also, the Hirsch Opinion in Florida v. Gaiter has been stored in the Terence Lenamon Online Library: 

Florida v Gaiter Order by Miami Circuit Judge Hirsch

 

 



 

Hurst Returns to the Florida Supreme Court: Read Amicus Brief

Today, oral argument was presented before the Florida Supreme Court on behalf of Death Row Inmate Timothy Hurst.

Hurst v. Florida Oral Argument Today

This is same Timothy Hurst whose arguments before the United States Supreme Court resulted in the High Court ruling that Florida's death penalty statute was unconstitutional.

Now, the Florida Supreme Court will decide if the SCOTUS decision opens the way for Timothy Hurst to have another sentencing hearing; or it changes his sentence from death to life without parole; or if there's a third result.

396 Florida Death Row Inmates Await the Result

It's a big case: around 400 other Death Row inmates in Florida will watch this case to learn their future in the aftermath of the SCOTUS ruling last fall.

Terence Lenamon / Florida Capital Resource Center Join on Amicus Brief

Terence Lenamon (co-founder) and the Florida Capital Resource Center have joined in this fight via an amicus brief as "friends of the court".

Appearing on the amicus: 

  • Justice Harry Lee Anstead,
  • Judge Rosemary Barkett,
  • Martha Barnett,
  • Talbot D’Alemberte,
  • Hank Coxe,
  • Justice Gerald Kogan,
  • the Florida Association Of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and
  • the Florida Center For Capital Representation.

Complete copies of the Amicus Brief, Appendix, and Motion for Leave to File have been uploaded for public review here today. 

You can read them in the Terence Lenamon Online Library, and see the brief below:

Amended Amicus Brief on Behalf of Appellants in Hurst

 

Petition for Writ of Certiorari in Woods v. Florida with Appendix

Right now, Terence Lenamon is working at the appellate level, addressing an important Discovery Issue that has serious implications in capital cases throughout the State of Florida.

The issue: 

Does the Sixth Amendment preclude compelled disclosure of test findings and reports from non-testifying expert witnesses?

It's an "uphill battle," according to Terry. With his permission, we're sharing his briefing in the matter below, in case you are interested in reading more about it.  These two documents are also stored online in the Terence Lenamon Online Library.

1.  Petition for Writ of Certiorari in Woods v. State of Florida

2.  Appendix to Petition for Writ in Woods v. Florida

 

Terence Lenamon's Position on Capital Punishment

Recently, Terence Lenamon received a request from a blogger interested in his take on capital punishment. With Terry's permission, here's what he wrote -- something than anyone reading our blog or knowing Terry (or of him) might like to read.

Terence Lenamon's View on the Death Penalty

From Death Penalty Lawyer Terence Lenamon:

"You cannot make the death penalty more ethical. Look at the data.

"Not only is it disproportionate to minorities, innocent people have been sentenced to death and executed.

"I won’t even touch on my moral opposition to the death penalty, although I will say it’s based in the New Testament. (Surprising how many religious zealots support killing another human being.)

"Bad lawyers, overzealous prosecutors, mistaken witnesses, flawed forensic testing. Anger, hate ……..The list goes on and on in what fuels an imperfect “punishment.”

"If your goal is to find ways to correct flaws within the death penalty you may want to change your paradigm to something like:

1. Finding ways to protect our children from being abused and growing up exposed to violence.

2. Finding ways to successfully treat mental illness before violence occurs.

3. Finding ways to educate our children and protect them from the violence and exposure to drugs in our community

4. Finding ways to help parents raise their children in a safe and loving environment.

"The list can go on and on .... I can’t change your belief system but I certainly hope you take a look your goal and redefine in a way that changes things for the better. "

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The Chair: 2016 Death Penalty Documentary on Amazon Prime

There's a new documentary dealing with the death penalty being offered by Amazon.com, and if you have a Prime Membership, then it's free to watch.  Note: It's rated PG-13; lasts 49 minutes.

 

 

From Amazon:

In 100 years, the electric chair has killed more than 4,000 prisoners, more than any other means of execution in America. It has become the symbol of America's death penalty. This is the story of the very first electric chair killing.

Record Number of Executions Worldwide According to Amnesty International

More executions are taking place in the world today than they have in the past 25 years. 

For details, check out this week's TIME magazine story, reporting on findings released in a recent Amnesty International report.

China Is Number One in Death Penalty Executions

The country that is killing the most people via the death penalty is China.  The executions in China number in the thousands - and the government isn't releasing exact numbers. 

For more on the China Death Van horrors, read our earlier posts.  It's shocking.

 Go HERE to download the full report from Amnesty International.   Here's their video:

 

SCOTUS REFUSES TO STAY EXECUTIONS EVEN IF MENTAL ILLNESS UNDISPUTED

In case anyone is wondering whether or not capital punishment is alive and well with the Supreme Court of the United States, consider the following:

1. Clinton Lee Young

This week, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to consider the case of Texas Death Row inmate Clinton Young, who was appealing a denial by a lower federal appellate court that he had ineffective assistance of counsel coupled with prosecutorial misconduct in his 2002 trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to death for shooting two men.  Read more about his case here.

2. Adam Ward

Today, Adam Ward is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas for the killing of a housing code enforcement officer as the officer was photographing Ward's house.

There is no doubt that Adam Ward is mentally ill, and that he suffers from bipolar disorder.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court of the United States has refused to hear Adam Ward's case, and will not be issuing a stay of execution.  His petition for a writ of habeas corpus was denied by SCOTUS this afternoon.

Simultaneously with filing their original pleading with United States Supreme Court, Adam Ward's attorneys have also sought review of the decision released by the highest Texas criminal court,  which has already denied his request for a stay of execution and which Ward's attorneys are asking they reconsider at this point. 

Adam Ward has been on medication for his mental illness since he was three years old, and this is part of the criminal record.

At the age of four, he spent over two months in a psychiatric unit where he was initially diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Again, this is part of Ward's appellate record.

SCOTUS Message Regarding the Death Penalty?

Absent a miracle, it appears that the State of Texas will be executing a man obviously suffering from mental illness today. What can we take from these two examples?

Currently, the United States Supreme Court is sending a clear message regarding capital punishment in this country.  Even if lifelong mental illness is involved. 

Ohio Second Execution Attempt for Romell Broom: Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

Ohio tried to execute Romell Broom once already -- if you'll recall, that was a physical horror and a procedural fiasco

For more, read our earlier posts on the Broom execution and its appeals through the Ohio state criminal justice system.

Now, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that allowing the State of Ohio a "re-do" with the opportunity to execute Mr. Broom a second time is acceptable -- it is not "cruel and unusual punishment' as that is defined by the U.S. Constitution.

Read the Ohio Supreme Court March 2016 Opinion here (slip opinion). 

What happens next for Ohio Death Row Inmate Romell Broom?

Well, the actual execution will not be happening anytime soon.  All of Ohio's executions are on hold until next year (2017) because they cannot find the drugs needed for their lethal injection method of execution.

And, Mr. Broom's lawyers still have some tools to use.  Look for this case to be filed in the federal system, with a goal of having the United States Supreme Court on whether or not the Ohio Supreme Court's take on "cruel and unusual" is correct.

And that brings up another question: what's the stance of the new SCOTUS nominee on capital punishment?  Good question.

 
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