United States Supreme Court Rejects Another Challenge to Another Method of Lethal Injection But Leaves the Door Open to Future Litigation

The Supreme Court decided Bucklew v. Precythe today, rejecting a death row inmate’s challenge to Missouri’s single-drug execution protocol. Challenges to lethal injection are now 0-for-3 in the Supreme Court, but the Court did not foreclose future litigation. To the contrary, it left the door open to further challenges, and so did nothing to break up the litigation logjam that has resulted in a de facto moratorium on executions in North Carolina.

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What Last Week’s Supreme Court Opinion May Tell Us about the Current Court

Last week, the Supreme Court issued a per curiam opinion summarily reversing the Texas Court of Criminal appeals and finding that a death row inmate has an intellectual disability. The case doesn’t break new doctrinal ground but it offers some possible insights about how several Justices on the newly constituted Court are positioned on capital cases.

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Capital Punishment Update

Later this week, a group of superior court judges will gather at the School of Government to participate in a course on handling capital cases. In preparation for my role as a facilitator of the course, I have been reading up on death penalty news. Both in North Carolina and nationally, data show clear trends toward fewer capital cases, fewer death sentences, and fewer executions. This post briefly explores those developments and considers whether they are likely to continue.

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Moore v. Texas: The Supreme Court Presses States to Comport with the Evolving Medical Understanding of Intellectual Disability

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Moore v. Texas, the third major case the Court has decided about intellectual disability (formerly, mental retardation) and the death penalty. This post summarizes the case and considers its impact on North Carolina.

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State Supreme Court Sends Racial Justice Act Cases Back to Superior Court

Just before Christmas, the Supreme Court of North Carolina decided the Racial Justice Act cases that were argued back in April 2014. Rather than ruling on the merits, the court remanded the cases for further proceedings, concluding that the State should have been granted a continuance to allow it to respond to the inmates’ statistical study of jury selection across the state in capital cases.

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Supreme Court: Not Unreasonable to Excuse Prospective Juror Who Was “Not Absolutely Certain” He Could Impose Death Penalty

The Supreme Court issued a per curiam opinion yesterday, reversing the Sixth Circuit in a capital case. The opinion doesn’t necessarily break new doctrinal ground but it is an interesting application of existing law, and it provides a window into an ongoing dispute between two federal appellate courts.

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News Roundup

It’s a bird, it’s a plane . . . no, it’s a drone over the skies of North Carolina.  And soon it may be operated by law enforcement.  The News and Observer reports that the General Assembly is poised to enact S 446, which flew through the House yesterday and has been returned to the Senate for concurrence with relatively minor amendments.  The bill repeals the prohibition on governmental use of unmanned aircraft enacted in 2013 and authorizes the State’s Chief Information Officer to approve the procurement and operation of unmanned aircraft systems by State agencies and local governments.

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The Death Penalty, Intellectual Disability, and Warrick Dunn

The United States Supreme Court just decided a capital case about intellectual disability, formerly known as mental retardation. In some ways, it’s an “error correction” case that doesn’t break new doctrinal ground. But it stands out for two reasons. First, it may be indicative of the current Court’s attitude towards the death penalty. And second, Justice Thomas wrote a dissenting opinion focused in large part on former professional football player Warrick Dunn.

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Evidence and Arguments about Prison Life in Capital Cases

During the second phase of a capital trial, the jury must decide whether to sentence the defendant to death or to life in prison. The jury’s perception of prison life may influence that decision. If the jury believes that prison life is comfortable, it may be more inclined to impose a death sentence, while if … Read more

Death Sentences Increase Slightly in North Carolina

I spent a few minutes this morning looking at death penalty data. As most readers know, North Carolina hasn’t had an execution since 2006, as a result of litigation over lethal injection and the Racial Justice Act. But the death penalty remains on the books, the State may seek it, and juries may impose it. … Read more