« CCJ releases "Pandemic, Social Unrest, and Crime in U.S. Cities: Year-End 2021 Update" | Main | "Private Prison Companies and Sentencing" »

January 27, 2022

By 5-4 vote, Supreme Court enables Alabama to move forward with execution

As reported in this AP piece, the Supreme Court "cleared the way Thursday night for the state of Alabama to execute an inmate who contended that an intellectual disability combined with the state’s inattention cost him a chance to avoid lethal injection and choose a new method."  Here is more:

Reeves was convicted of killing a driver who gave him a ride in 1996. Reeves claimed the state failed to help him understand a form that would have let him choose a new execution method involving nitrogen, but the state argued he wasn’t so disabled that he couldn’t understand the choice.

A divided court agreed with the state’s bid to let the execution to proceed.  Justice Amy Coney Barrett said she would deny the state’s request, while Justice Stephen Breyer, who just announced his retirement, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined with Justice Elena Kagan in a dissent that said the execution shouldn’t occur.

The dissenting opinion of Justice Kagan, which runs three pages and is available here, starts this way (with cites removed):

Four judges on two courts have decided — after extensive record development, briefing, and argument — that Matthew Reeves’s execution should not proceed as scheduled tonight.  The law demands that we give their conclusions deference. But the Court today disregards the well-supported findings made below, consigning Reeves to a method of execution he would not have chosen if properly informed of the alternatives. I respectfully dissent.

I believe this is the first time Justice Barrett has voted in favor of a capital defendant is one of these cases, though she did not explain just why.

UPDATE:  The AP article linked above now reports that the execution has been completed:

Alabama executed an inmate by lethal injection for a 1996 murder on Thursday after a divided U.S. Supreme Court sided with the state and rejected defense claims the man had an intellectual disability that cost him a chance to choose a less “torturous,” yet untried, execution method.

Matthew Reeves, 43, was put to death at Holman Prison after the court lifted a lower court order that had prevented corrections workers from executing the prisoner. He was pronounced dead at 9:24 p.m. CST, state Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement.

January 27, 2022 at 10:02 PM | Permalink


Barrett will vote for a capital defendant who makes a good statutory argument like the ADA or RLUIPA (Dunn v. Smith), but will not accept any of their constitutional arguments.

Posted by: Jacob Berlove | Jan 28, 2022 5:19:13 AM

He was smart enough to do the crime—smart enough to pay the price. Good riddance. It’s laughable to see Supreme Court Justices hoodwinked by true believing capital defense lawyers. Even more laughable to read the virtue signaling that drips from these dissents.

Posted by: Federalist | Jan 28, 2022 7:32:40 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB