Baze v. Rees

Baze v. Rees

Supreme Court of the United States

January 7, 2008, Argued; April 16, 2008, Decided

No. 07-5439


 [*40]  [**1525]   Chief Justice Roberts announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which Justice Kennedy and Justice Alito join.

Like 35 other States and the Federal Government, Kentucky has chosen to impose capital punishment for certain crimes. As is true with respect to each of these States and the Federal Government, Kentucky has  [****12] altered its method  [*41]  of execution over time to more humane means of carrying out the sentence. That progress has led to the use of lethal injection by every  [**1526]  jurisdiction that imposes the death penalty.

Petitioners in this case--each convicted of double homicide--acknowledge that the lethal injection procedure, if applied as intended, will result in a humane death. They nevertheless contend that the lethal injection protocol is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual punishments," because of the risk that the protocol's terms might not be properly followed, resulting in significant pain. They propose an alternative protocol, one that they concede has not been adopted by any State and has never been tried.

The trial court held extensive hearings and entered detailed findings of fact and conclusions of l. It recognized that "[t]here are no methods of legal execution that are satisfactory to those who oppose the death penalty on moral, religious, or societal grounds," but concluded that Kentucky's procedure "complies with the constitutional requirements against cruel and unusual punishment." App. 769. The State Supreme Court affirmed. We too agree that  [****13] petitioners have not carried their burden of showing that the risk of pain from maladministration of a concededly humane lethal injection protocol, and the failure to adopt untried and untested alternatives, constitute cruel and unusual punishment. The judgment below is affirmed.

By the middle of the 19th century, "hanging was the 'nearly universal form of execution' in the United States." Campbell v. Wood, 511 U.S. 1119, 114 S. Ct. 2125, 128 L. Ed. 2d 682 (1994) (Blackmun, J., dissenting from denial of certiorari) (quoting State v. Frampton, 95 Wn. 2d 469, 492, 627 P.2d 922, 934 (1981)); Denno, Getting to Death: Are Executions Constitutional? 82 Iowa L. Rev. 319, 364  [*42]   [***428]  (1997) (counting 48 States and Territories that employed hanging as a method of execution). In 1888, following the recommendation of a commission empaneled by the Governor to find "'the most humane and practical method known to modern science of carrying into effect the sentence of death,'" New York became the first State to authorize electrocution as a form of capital punishment. Glass v. Louisiana, 471 U.S. 1080, 1082, and n 4, 105 S. Ct. 2159, 85 L. Ed. 2d 514 (1985) (Brennan, J., dissenting from denial of certiorari); Denno, supra, at 373. By 1915, 11 other States had followed suit,  [****14] motivated by the "well-grounded belief that electrocution is less painful and more humane than hanging." Malloy v. South Carolina, 237 U.S. 180, 185, 35 S. Ct. 507, 59 L. Ed. 905 (1915).

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553 U.S. 35 *; 128 S. Ct. 1520 **; 170 L. Ed. 2d 420 ***; 2008 U.S. LEXIS 3476 ****; 76 U.S.L.W. 4199; 21 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 164


Subsequent History: Related proceeding at Baze v. Ky. Dep't of Corr., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96336 (E.D. Ky., Nov. 25, 2008)


Baze v. Rees, 217 S.W.3d 207, 2006 Ky. LEXIS 301 (Ky., 2006)

Disposition: Affirmed.

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Criminal Law & Procedure, Sentencing, Capital Punishment, General Overview, Constitutional Law, Bill of Rights, Fundamental Rights, Cruel & Unusual Punishment, State Application