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January 31, 2008

SCOTUS grants last-minute execution stay in Alabama

According to this new AP story, a "murderer scheduled to die in what would have been the nation's first execution in months won a last-minute reprieve Thrusday from the U.S. Supreme Court, prison officials said."  Here's more from the AP report:

James Harvey Callahan, set to die at 6 p.m., was granted a stay, Holman prison warden Grant Culliver told officers on death row.  The inmate's attorney had asked the high court to halt the execution after a federal appeals court lifted a stay granted by a Montgomery judge.  It would have been the nation's first execution since Sept. 25, the day the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider whether lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment.  THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information.

UPDATE:  This blog post from the Birmingham News provides a few more specifics:

The U.S. Supreme Court at 4:45 p.m. today issued a stay delaying the execution of convicted killer James Callahan, who was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. today.  Callahan was convicted of the 1982 kidnapping and murder of Jacksonville State University student Rebecca Howell....

Prison officials said Callahan's family is "overjoyed" that the execution has been delayed....  Alabama had tried twice before to become the first state to resume executions, but both of those executions also were stopped by the courts.

January 31, 2008 at 06:17 PM | Permalink


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Not surprised, seeing as how the 11th Circuit bent over backwards to make up "law" on a defense not even appealed to try to force an execution to go forward.

Only a case involving a death-sentenced person could cause the statute of limitations to run before a claim has accrued and a litigant to be deemed "too late" to ask for relief from a future harm. What a (sadistic) joke the federal appeals courts have become.

Posted by: DK | Jan 31, 2008 7:56:07 PM

So DK, implicit in your reasoning is an assertion that perhaps a state's statute of limitations for personal injury claims isn't necessarily the most appropriate vehicle for determining for capital 1983 claims. I agree in that I find it hard to imagine that the Court, in Wilson v. Garcia contemplated it's future ruling in Hill v. McDonough, 11 years later.

In my mind, the most disconcerting aspect of McNair v. Caldwell (assuming a similar rule is applied to other circuits) is the 11th Circuit's substitution of a 2 year limitation in a discussion that is already taking place in the context of an equitable balancing. The circuits are, on a case by case basis, attempting to answer, via equitable balancing, the question of, 'When a Petitioner must file their 1983 claim?'

In application, the court's ruling would essentially create an effective presumption (non-rebuttable?) that, for a determinable period of time after a state adopts a particular method of execution (or makes a material change to their protocols - whatever that may mean), there are no equitable concerns that could ever warrant the Court's examination of a 1983 application after X years.

Posted by: Christopher Thompson | Feb 1, 2008 1:41:16 PM

Christopher Thompson,

The thing is, there are already rules of general applicability in place that govern the issue. The appeals courts are just refusing to apply them and instead disingenuously making up new ones just for death-sentenced persons who are asking that they be protected from torture prior to and during their execution.

If I, as a non-death-sentenced person, go to a federal court and ask for an injunction against some future harm that I anticipate happening to me, there will never be a statute of limitations question involved. Wilson v. Garcia is not the problem; the statute of limitations will not even begin to run until the claim accrues, which it will not do until the harm or injury occurs (or, in some cases, knowledge of its having occurred in the past). Statutes of limitation never begin to run upon knowledge that a future harm may occur. This would have the absurd result that a person could tell me they are going to injure me (thus imparting knowledge of--or, in the appeals court's language "reasonable anticipation" of--a future harm), and then wait until the limitations period expires to actually inflict the harm, leaving me without any redress for the actual harm suffered.

That is not the law, and never has been the law, unless you are a death-sentenced person and a federal appeals court tries to make it the law only so the state can kill you faster. None of the cases the 11th Circuit relied on dealt with causes of action seeking relief from future harm. (It disingenuously cited a couple cases purporting to be such, but they are not. The language from Lovett v. Ray, which it primarily relied upon states, "Here, the defendants' act ... was a one time act with continued consequences, and the limitations period is not extended." It therefore applied the general rule to a historical injury, not a future one. The other case cited is identical.)

The district court, recognizing and faithfully applying general legal principles, properly determined the alleged torture event itself as the date upon which the claim would accrue (and thus begin the limitations period). The appellate court understood this as well, and pulled an express Bush v. Gore to reach its desired end: "Although we agree with the general principle recited by the district court, we disagree with its application to cases such as this one, where the ultimate injury is reasonably likely and wholly foreseeable."

The equity issue is something altogether different. And because it's equity, the appeals courts are pretty much free to apply their prejudice at will, and they, of course, do.

Posted by: DK | Feb 2, 2008 3:07:15 PM

Perhaps the family, which is "overjoyed", could reflect a bit on the pain of the victim's family, which has waited 27 years for justice, and this is true whether they support the death penalty or not. (I suspect that most family members who do not support the death penalty would rather have it done without interminable delays.) It reminds me of Napoleon Beazley's family members telling Napoleon that he had nothing to be sorry for as he apologized to the court. The Beazley family members who said those things are contemptible, and I wonder how they can look in the mirror.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 3, 2008 3:18:35 PM

Ignoring federalist's contemptible rant, I might add there is an obvious reason the 11th Circuit bent over backwards to rule on the statute of limitations grounds like this. Reversing the stay on equity grounds was foreclosed to it, since Callahan had filed his complaint well more than a year before his execution date (which was scheduled by the State while the suit was pending), thus leaving plenty of time to resolve the merits, the condition the Supreme Court set in Hill for denial on equitable considerations.

Posted by: DK | Feb 4, 2008 12:50:58 AM

Contemptible? What's so contemptible about it, DK? I guess if my child were a capital murderer, I would be happy if he got a stay of execution, but I certainly would think about the victim's family and 27 years of pain that they have suffered.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 4, 2008 10:41:44 AM

dear sir;

I tink this could have been handled more approbiately than what happened here in this situation.

There are always alternatives and the court failed to examin them in any manner.

Posted by: JOHN R WALDEN | Feb 15, 2008 2:56:10 AM

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