Baze v. Rees

Baze v. Rees, 128 S. Ct. 1520, 170 L. Ed. 2d 420 (2008), analyzed the lethal injection standards of the State of Kentucky Justice Roberts, writing the plurality opinion of the Court, began with the principal that capital punishment is constitutional. He noted that the Court has never invalidated a State's chosen procedure for carrying out a sentence of death as violative of the Eighth Amendment and then stated: "It necessarily follows that there must be a means of carrying a death sentence out Some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution--no matter how humane--if only from the prospect of error in following the required procedure It is clear, then, that the Constitution does not demand the avoidance of all risk of pain in carrying out executions." The Court stated that a method of execution does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment unless it creates "a substantial risk of serious harm," or "an objectively intolerable risk of harm ". It also found that the "conditions presenting the risk must be 'sure or very likely to cause needless pain' and give rise to 'sufficiently imminent dangers'". It concluded that "a State with lethal injection protocol substantially similar to Kentucky's would not create a risk that meets this standard " id at 1531, 1537. The Court provided the requirements that a defendant must satisfy in order to succeed on an Eighth Amendment challenge to a state's lethal injection protocol. The Court explained, "although subjecting one to a risk of future harm can qualify as cruel and unusual punishment, the Supreme Court in Baze explained that to prevail on such a claim, condemned inmates must demonstrate that 'the conditions presenting the risk must be sure or very likely to cause serious illness and needless suffering, and give rise to sufficiently imminent dangers.'" (Baze, 553 U.S. at 49-50.) "That is, 'there must be a substantial risk of serious harm, an objectively intolerable risk of harm that prevents prison officials from pleading that they were subjectively blameless for purposes of the Eighth Amendment.'" (Baze, 553 U.S. at 50). An inmate faces a 'heavy burden' to show that lethal injection procedures violate the Eighth Amendment." (Baze, 553 U.S. at 53).