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Baze teaches that where the question in dispute is whether the State’s chosen method of execution cruelly superadds pain to the death sentence, a prisoner must show a feasible and readily implemented alternative method of execution that would significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain and that the State has refused to adopt without a legitimate penological reason. Glossip left no doubt that this standard governs all Eighth Amendment method-of-execution claims.
Petitioner Russell Bucklew was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The State of Missouri planned to execute him by lethal injection using a single drug, pentobarbital. Mr. Bucklew presented an as-applied Eighth Amendment challenge to the State's lethal injection protocol, alleging that, regardless whether it would cause excruciating pain for all prisoners, it would cause him severe pain because of his particular medical condition. The District Court dismissed his challenge. The Eighth Circuit, applying the Baze-Glossip test, remanded the case to allow Bucklew to identify a feasible, readily implemented alternative procedure that would significantly reduce his alleged risk of pain. Eventually, Bucklew identified nitrogen hypoxia, but the District Court found the proposal lacking and granted the State's motion for summary judgment. The Eighth Circuit affirmed.
Did Bucklew successfully establish that the State's lethal injection protocol was unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment as applied to him due to his unusual medical condition?
The court held that Bucklew failed to establish that the State's lethal injection protocol was unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment as applied to him due to his unusual medical condition of cavernous hemangioma. The Baze and Glossip test governed facial and as-applied Eighth Amendment challenges, it did not require the avoidance of all risk of pain, and it required the inmate to prove a viable alternative execution method. The inmate did not satisfy the Baze-Glossip test because he did not show that his proposed alternative method of nitrogen hypoxia was feasible and readily implemented, the State had a legitimate reason to reject his proposal as it had never been used for an execution, and the inmate failed to present colorable evidence that his proposal would significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain.