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June 16, 2006

On the other side of the Hill

The ABA e-Journal report has this interesting article following up on the Supreme Court's Hill lethal injection ruling  earlier this week.  The article is entitled "More Inmates Likely to Contest Lethal Injection: Tennessee Case May Be Next After High Court Ruling," are here is part of the coverage:

The justices granted perhaps thousands of death row inmates a significant new avenue for collateral appeal considerably less restrictive than the usual petition for a writ of habeas corpus — which is how the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta treated Hill's action in getting rid of it.  But the justices also left the lower courts with precious little guidance on how to determine which section 1983 cases to hear and which ones to send packing.

As a practical matter, the Hill court did little more than expand the universe of death-sentenced prisoners eligible to file section 1983 actions. "Thank you," says Carolyn M. Snurkowski, the Florida assistant attorney general who argued Hill, in response to a question about the decision’s impact. "That's what I've been telling people."

But in terms of scale, Hill could be huge. The court previously had allowed a section 1983 challenge only in a case where Alabama prison officials wanted to use a special invasive procedure, called a "cut down," to administer the lethal chemicals to an inmate whose veins had collapsed from drug use. Nelson v. Campbell, 541 U.S. 637 (2004). By extending the possibility of a civil rights suit to routine procedures, such as the one at issue in Hill, the court in effect invited nearly all the nation's 3,370 death row inmates to vie for another day in court.  Of the 38 states with the death penalty, 37 use lethal injection, as do the federal government and the military.

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June 16, 2006 at 02:25 PM | Permalink

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