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Missouri’s Lethal Injection Protocol Unconstitutional; Executions Stayed

Missouri's Lethal Injection Protocol Unconstitutional; Executions Stayed

Finding the current method of Missouri's execution of prisoners by lethal injection subjected condemned prisoners to "an unacceptable risk of suffering unconstitutional pain and suffering," a Missouri federal district court stayed all executions in the state.

Before the Court was the complaint of prisoner Michael Anthony Taylor, who alleged "that the three drug sequence using a procedure whereby the drugs are administered through the femoral artery creates a foreseeable risk of the infliction of gratuitous pain.? The execution process involved a physician administering 5 grams of sodium pentothal, also known as thiopental, which is a substance that produces anesthesia. The physician flushes the IV line with saline and then administers pancuronium bromide to prevent any involuntary movement of the body.

After again administering saline, potassium chloride is injected to stop the heart's electrical activity.

During discovery it was learned that only 2.5 grams of sodium pentothal was being administered rather than 5 grams. Also, the physician was a surgeon with no training in anesthesiology. He had performed the last six Missouri executions. There was no written protocol for the administration of the lethal cocktail. In fact, the physician had full authority, and did on several occasions; alter the amount of drugs administered.

That fact was of concern to the Court because if a prisoner was "not sufficiently anesthetized when the potassium chloride is administered, it will cause excruciating pain as it is administered through the [prisoner's] veins. The [prisoner], however, would be unable to show that he was experiencing discomfort due to the paralyzing effects of the pancuronium bromide."

The Court also disapproved of the lack of oversight of the physician, since Missouri?s "protocol, as it currently exists, is not carried out consistently and is subject to change at a moment's notice." Moreover, the physician was dyslexic and admitted he made mistakes with numbers, raising the possibility that he could improperly mix the drugs utilized in the execution. Finally, there was no certainty a prisoner had a proper anesthetic death because the physician only monitored the prisoner's facial expression.

The Court held the current protocol was unconstitutional. It ordered the state of Missouri to consult with a "board certified anesthesiologist" to prepare a written protocol for the implementation of lethal injections, setting forth several requirements including use of an anesthesiologist at all future executions.

Until the Court approved the new protocol, all Missouri executions were stayed. See: Taylor v. Crawford, Slip Copy, 2006 WL 1779035 (W.D.Mo. 2006) (unpublished).

On appeal, the Eighth Circuit noted that the Missouri DOC director had since filed a revised execution protocol with the district court. The appellate court held that the lower court retained "no further jurisdiction" after it had certified findings and conclusions to the appeals court, that the district court had the authority to grant an injunction halting executions in the state, and that the revised execution protocol submitted by the Missouri DOC warranted remand. The case was therefore remanded to the district court for consideration of the state's revised execution protocol "and all other issues" raised by the parties. See: Taylor v. Crawford, 457 F.3d 902 (8th Cir. 2006).

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Related legal cases

Taylor v. Crawford

Taylor v. Crawford

Taylor v. Crawford, 457 F.3d 902 (8th Cir. 08/09/2006)

[1] United States Court of Appeals FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT

[2] Nos. 06-1397 & 06-2914

[3] 457 F.3d 902

[4] August 9, 2006




[8] Before RILEY, BEAM, and HANSEN, Circuit Judges.

[9] Taylor's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims challenging Missouri's lethal injection protocol are before the court on his notice of interlocutory appeal from the district court's January 31, 2006, order refusing to enjoin the execution of his state-court imposed death sentence. (Appeal number 06-1397).

[10] On April 27, 2006, the court remanded the case to the district court for an additional merits hearing on Taylor's claims. Jurisdiction was retained.

[11] The district court, after discovery and hearing, determined that Missouri's then existing protocol violated the Eighth Amendment, enjoined its use in Taylor's execution, stayed Taylor's death warrant, amended its earlier order to the contrary, and on June 26, 2006, certified its findings and conclusions to this court. The district court also concluded "that it [was] within its equitable powers to fashion a remedy" establishing an acceptable protocol for the use of lethal injunctions in the execution of death sentences imposed by Missouri courts, citing Morales v. Hickman, 415 F. Supp. 2d 1037 (N.D. Cal. 2006), and Brown v. Beck, No. 5:06-CT-3018-H (E.D.N.C. April 7, 2006) (Doc. No. 32). It then did so.

[12] As directed, although after the certification, Crawford filed in the district court a revised protocol for use in carrying out Taylor's death sentence. On July 24, 2006, Taylor filed objections to the new protocol and on that same day, Crawford filed a new notice of interlocutory appeal in response to the district court's June 26, 2006, order. The next day, the district court, noting its earlier certification and the recently filed notice of appeal, recognized a lack of jurisdiction. With this, the district court forwarded the revised protocol to this court. In the meantime, Taylor filed an unopposed motion to hold briefing in abeyance and his lawyer filed a motion for substitution of counsel and withdrawal. We now address each of these matters.

[13] The district court was correct in noting that it retained no further jurisdiction in appeal number 06-1397 after its certification of findings and conclusions on June 26, 2006. And, though the matter was already before this court pursuant to Taylor's earlier notice of appeal, Crawford's new notice of appeal of July 24, 2006, although continuing to deal generally with Taylor's section 1983 claims, resulted in a new appeal. (Appeal number 06-2914).

[14] While the court questions whether in the circumstances of this case the district court was "within its equitable powers" in directing Crawford to adopt a revised protocol for lethal injections in Missouri, it finds that it is not necessary to decide that issue now. The district court clearly did have authority to determine the constitutionality of the then existing execution procedures originally presented, to set forth in detail its reasons for such holding, and to enter its June 26, 2006, order, dealing with such subjects. The district court also had jurisdiction to grant Taylor the remedy of injunction or, in the alternative, to deny such relief, totally or conditionally. See, e.g., Morales, 415 F. Supp. 2d at 1046-47.

[15] Since Crawford has now proposed the revised protocol for use in the execution of Taylor's death sentence, the court remands jurisdiction of this dispute to the district court for consideration of this newly propounded protocol and all other issues now framed by the parties' pleadings and notices of appeal. In the course of or after such consideration, any party is free to seek, or not, review of any appealable interlocutory decision or final decision the district court renders or has rendered at any stage of this continuing litigation.

[16] The previously imposed briefing schedules in appeal number 06-1397 are vacated and the pending motions for withdrawal and substitution of counsel are also remanded to the jurisdiction of the district court for consideration and decision.

[17] The appeals are remanded to the district court for further proceedings in accordance with this order.