On July 1, 2016, a new Virginia law will take effect that will protect the identities of nearly all parties involved in state-performed lethal injections. HB 815 provides exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act to make confidential all identifying information of producers, suppliers, compounding pharmacies, executioners, and all other individuals involved in the procurement and use of lethal injection drugs. Virginia will become at least the 13th state with such a law.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that when a judge had significant prior personal involvement as a prosecutor in a critical decision in the defendant’s case the judge must recuse himself or herself. 

District attorney Castille approved a subordinate prosecutor’s request to seek the death penalty against Terrance Williams. Williams was accused of a robbery and murder which he denied, on the stand, participating in.

Almost 30 years later Williams’s co-conspirator revealed that he had informed the prosecutor on the case that Williams and the victim had a sexual relationship that was the motive for the murder. A lower state court threw out Williams’s execution after discovering extensive prosecutor misconduct. 

Meanwhile, Castille had become Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court which was tasked with reviewing the lower court’s decision. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously reversed the lower court. Castille refused to recuse himself.

In Moore v. Texas the Supreme Court will review a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision to apply a previous definition of “intellectually disabled” adopted in a 1992 death penalty case rather than the current definition. Texas Legislature’s failure to act compels its decision, the lower court reasoned.

In Atkins v. Virginia (1992) the Supreme Court held that executing the intellectually disabled violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The Court tasked states with implementing Atkins.

Like many cases involving the death penalty, Williams v. Pennsylvania is a long story.

Terrance Williams was sentenced to death for killing Amos Norwood during a 1984 robbery in Philadelphia when Williams was eighteen. Williams claimed at trial he did not know Norwood, who was fifty-six.

In 2012 Williams’ co-conspirator Marc Draper revealed, among other things, that the prosecutor urged him to falsely testify that the motive for the murder was robbery, not that Norwood had sexually abused Williams, and the prosecutor wrote an undisclosed letter to the parole board on behalf of Draper. A hearing revealed the prosecutor failed to disclose extensive evidence of Norwood’s homosexual ephebophilia (attraction to teenagers).

In Glossip v. Gross the Supreme Court held 5-4 that death row inmates are unlikely to succeed on their claim that using midazolam as a lethal injection drug amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

All death penalty states and the federal government use lethal injection. In Baze v. Rees (2008) the Court approved a three-drug protocol that begins with a sedative, sodium thiopental, followed by a paralytic agent and a drug that causes cardiac arrest. Anti-death penalty advocates have persuaded United States and foreign manufacturers to stop producing sodium thiopental and an alternative, pentobarbital. So, Oklahoma and other states began using midazolam. Oklahoma increased the dose from 100 milligrams to 500 milligrams after Clayton Lockett was moving and talking after being administered 100 milligrams of midazolam. (An investigation into Lockett’s execution concluded that problems establishing IV access was the “single greatest factor that contributed to the difficulty in administering the execution drugs.”)

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Thirty-seven times during his long legislative career, Nebraska Sen. Ernie Chambers had introduced legislation to repeal the state’s death penalty. Every time, it had ended in defeat. And for those outside Nebraska, there was little reason to believe the 38th time would be the charm for death-penalty opponents — the newly elected governor supported capital punishment, and the Unicameral Legislature was still considered politically conservative. Inside the state Capitol, though, legislators were well aware that 2015 could finally be the year for a successful repeal.

“I knew there would be a serious push,” says Nebraska Sen. Beau McCoy, who opposed the repeal and, two years ago, had led a filibuster to stop a similar measure from advancing. Near the end of this year’s legislative session, supporters mustered not only enough votes to pass LB 268, but to override the veto of Gov. Pete Ricketts as well.
It marked the first time that a U.S. state’s repeal of the death penalty occurred over the veto of a governor.

To date, the Supreme Court’s docket for next term has less than ten cases.  Two of them involve the death penalty.  Combined, they raise at least three issues.   

It is difficult to know what issues the Court will decide in Hurst v. Florida.  In his certiorari petition Timothy Lee Hurst asked the Court to decide at least six issues.  The Court combined and shortened Hurst’s questions presented to address whether Florida’s death penalty sentencing scheme violates the Sixth (right to a jury trial) and Eighth (no cruel and unusual punishment) Amendments.    

CSG Midwest
No death-row inmates will be executed in Ohio this year, as the state transitions to a new mix of lethal drugs to put people to death. The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, which made the announcement in January, had previously planned to execute six people in 2015.
 
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An Ohio Supreme Court task force has given legislators 56 recommendations on how to improve administration of the death penalty. The comprehensive list of proposed changes covers nearly all aspects of the death penalty — from tighter controls on how evidence is collected and interrogations are conducted, to more funding for defense services, to new rules for post-...

Are you a state legislator from Florida, Kentucky, Virginia, Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Kansas, North Carolina, and Washington?  If so, keep reading.  Your legislature may need to rewrite its definition of intellectual disability as it applies to the death penalty. 

In Hall v. Florida the Supreme Court held 5-4 that if a capital defendant’s IQ falls within the standard error measurement (SEM) for intellectually disabled, the defendant must be allowed to present additional evidence of intellectual disability.  Hall may require the above 9 states to rewrite their death penalty statutes because they have strict IQ cutoff scores of 70.

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