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October 23, 2007

A fascinating balance of execution equities in Alabama

The lethal injection moratorium debate is about to get real interesting in Alabama as the scheduled execution date of Daniel Lee Siebert approaches.  Siebert is due to be executed Thursday evening, and yesterday Alabama's governor indicated he wanted the execution to go forward.  Today, as detailed in this AP story, a federal district judge turned down Siebert's stay request.  Here are the litigation details:

The judge sided with the state attorney general's office, which argued that Siebert didn't raise the lethal injection issues until he had exhausted all other appeals and that was too long to wait.  Siebert's attorneys immediately appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

What makes this case especially notable is that Siebert is terminally ill and apparently only has a few months to live.  Though the AP report does not mention whether the federal district court considered Siebert's health when refusing a stay, the defendant's condition is arguably a relevant factor when balancing equities in the consideration of a motion for a stay.  (Ironically, though folks opposing Siebert's execution cited his illness as a reason for clemency,  Alabama's governor views his illness as a justification for going forward in order to ensure that the state gets to kill Siebert before his illness does.)

If past is prologue, we can expect the Eleventh Circuit to affirm the district court's decision to deny a stay.  Then it will be up to the Supreme Court yet again to decide if it wants to grant a stay and keep the de facto Baze moratorium in place. 

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October 23, 2007 at 03:59 PM | Permalink


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"Curiouser and curiouser...." The judge's order in this case is not on Pacer. It is sealed. Anyone know why?

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Oct 23, 2007 4:47:02 PM

Doug: The other day you asked why abolitionists aren't using the word "moratorium" to describe the state of affairs since the cert grant in Baze. I think part of the reason may be that the Supreme Court's stay decisions are opaque, and there have only been a couple issued by the Supreme Court itself since the grant. It simply hasn't been clear that such stays were forthcoming from the Supreme Court for all who sought one. As you know, sometimes the equities or procedural anomalies of a given case can be the difference between life and death.

Having said that, if the Court grants a stay in Mr. Seibert's case, I suspect a sufficient pattern will exist for most to feel comfortable with the "moratorium" label. (Though executions of volunteers might still go forward.)

Posted by: Anon | Oct 23, 2007 7:31:55 PM

Kent, I did see that the order was sealed on PACER this morning, but I didn't take the time to check why. There are motions to seal on the docket, so it's probably there, but my guess is that the order is sealed because it discusses the protocol in detail. Some states, e.g., Arkansas, have claimed in the past that lethal injection protocols are privileged based upon some ill-defined "security concern." Being too lazy to peruse the litigation docs in detail, I suspect that's the reason for the seal.

Posted by: anonymouse | Oct 23, 2007 8:48:30 PM

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