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Supreme Court rules death row inmate asks to die by firing squad
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The Supreme Court ruled Thursday in favor of a Georgia death row inmate who wanted to be executed by firing squad instead of lethal injection, and said a Los Angeles County officer could not be prosecuted for failing to inform a suspect he questioned of his rights in Miranda.

The rulings came on the same day as the court’s landmark ruling that a New York law was too restrictive of the constitutional right to bear arms.

Judge Elena Kagan wrote for an ideologically mixed majority in the Georgia case. The case involved legal proceedings, but she acknowledged it could mean the state must change its law to allow firing squads if it wants to execute Michael Nance, who killed a man after he robbed a bank in 1993.

Nance’s winding journey through the courts has already seen him reprimanded once, after Georgia dropped electrocution as a method of execution and adopted lethal injection. But in 2020, he sued saying the method in his situation would violate constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

He said that due to his compromised veins he would be in excruciating pain before his death if a lethal injection was used. He also alleged that his years of use of back pain medication would lessen the effect of a sedative.

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The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that inmates can offer an alternate method of execution if they can show such results, even if the method is not currently authorized by the state. carrying out their sentences.

A panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit said Nance’s suit, filed under a civil rights law, should be treated as a habeas petition challenging his sentence and the dismissed as premature. But Kagan said the civil rights lawsuit, brought against state officials for denial of constitutional rights, was appropriate and could go forward.

Nance “does not dispute the death penalty itself; he takes the validity of that sentence as given,” Kagan wrote. “And it provides the state with a real blueprint for carrying out the death penalty. If the detainee obtains the relief sought, it is because he has persuaded a court that the state could easily use his proposal to enforce it.

Several states allow firing squads, Kagan wrote, and Georgia could do so as well if lower courts agree with Nance.

She was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Brett M. Kavanaugh.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett dissented, saying the state owed greater deference than that.

“The Court is looking too far down the road,” Barrett wrote. “In my opinion, the consequence of the remedy which a prisoner seeks depends on the law of the State as it currently exists. And under existing state law, there can be no doubt that Nance’s challenge necessarily involves the invalidity of his lethal injection sentence: he seeks to prevent the state from carrying it out in the only way that he legally can.

She was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch.

Kagan took issue with Barrett’s assertion that the court must take state law as it finds it. “Why does it have to be so – when in fact Georgia could change its law and execute Nance?” Kagan asked. “And when Nance accepts the validity of the state taking this course?”

Nance robbed a back in Gwinnett County, Georgia. When silver dye packs exploded, he abandoned his car and saw Gabor Balogh pull his car out of a parking space. Nance opened the car door and shot and killed Balogh.

The case is Nance v. Ward.

The court also ruled on Thursday that law enforcement officers could not be prosecuted for failing to inform suspects of their right against self-incrimination.

6-3 decision does not change benchmark Miranda vs. Arizona but refers to civil lawsuits against officials who fail to enforce it.

Alito, writing for the Conservative Majority, said “a violation of Miranda does not necessarily constitute a violation of the Constitution”. Allowing such lawsuits, he wrote, would have “little additional deterrent value” while causing “numerous problems” for the justice system.

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Dissenting, Kagan said the majority denies individual rights by closing the possibility of legal challenges if, for example, a compelled statement is put to trial and a defendant is wrongly convicted. If the protections afforded to suspects in Miranda are “constitutionally guaranteed,” then individuals must be able to sue government officials who deny them these rights.

“Today, the Court deprives individuals of the possibility of exercising a remedy against violations of the recognized right to Mirandawrote Kagan, who was joined by Breyer and Sotomayor. “The majority here, as elsewhere, infringes the right by refusing the remedy.”

Kagan said the majority opinion means the only remedy for a violation of Miranda is for the defendants to ask the trial to suppress the wrongly obtained information.

Under the famous 1966 Miranda opinion, persons interrogated while in police custody must be informed of their rights to remain silent, to have a lawyer present and to know that their statements can be used against them.

In 2014, Terence Tekoh was accused of sexually assaulting a patient at a Los Angeles medical center where he worked as a nursing assistant. He was questioned at work by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy, but the deputy, Carlos Vega, did not give him a warning Miranda. Tekoh’s confession was presented at trial, but he was acquitted. Tekoh then sued for damages for alleged violations of his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

The United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit sided with Tekoh and said the use of his statement to the deputy, obtained without warning from Miranda, was a valid basis for prosecution.

Alito said any benefit to allowing claims against police officers is outweighed by potential problems, including what he says would be a waste of judicial resources and procedural issues, such as whether damages- civil interests are available in cases where the unadvised statement had no impact on the outcome. of the criminal case.

Civil rights advocates said the majority significantly weakened Miranda’s rights by shielding police officers from legal liability and that Thursday’s decision was part of a pattern of the court’s conservative majority.

The court “took a ram to one of America’s most cherished constitutional rights,” Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, said in a statement. “The Roberts court is redoing what it has done far too often: rewriting the law in a way that makes it easier for police abuse by putting accountability out of reach.”

The case is Vega vs Tekoh.


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