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US Supreme Court hears case of death row inmate who wants to die by firing squad instead of lethal injection

Georgia inmate Michael Nance claims lethal injection violates his 8th amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.
Published: Apr. 25, 2022 at 6:43 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - For more than a hour Monday the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Georgia death row inmate Michael Nance.

Nance, who was sentenced to death in 2002, argues he doesn’t want to die by lethal injection because medical conditions have impacted his veins. His lawyers claim lethal injection violate Nance’s 8th amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment. Instead, Nance is proposing that the state puts him to death by firing squad. However, a firing squad is not an approved method of execution in the state of Georgia.

Nance’s legal team argues that in May of 2019, a prison medical technician told Nance that the execution team would have to “cut his neck” to carry out lethal injection because they could not “otherwise obtain sustained intravenous access.” They also claim Nance’s severely compromised veins pose a substantial risk of him facing a ‘torturous’ and ‘excessively painful’ execution.

Nance’s lawyer, Jenner & Block Partner Matthew Hellman, told justices Monday this case is not about if Nance will be executed, but how.

“The firing squad is our proposed alternative. We are not aware of any method of lethal injection that would be constitutional as to Mr. Nance,” said Hellman before the Supreme Court.

Hellman also provided this statement to the Washington News Bureau, “we were pleased to have the opportunity to present our argument to the Court today. The rule Georgia proposes would block meritorious constitutional claims, and we hope the Court rejects it and reaffirms its longstanding decisions holding that claims like Mr. Nance’s can proceed in court.”

Georgetown University Law professor Cliff Sloan said the Supreme Court will ultimately have to decide the procedural questions in this case. He said that technical question could either make it easier or harder for other challenges like the one Nance is making to move forward.

“The issue here is whether the person could bring that under a civil rights statute, which is the way they’ve been brought in the past, or whether the person has to bring it under what’s called the ‘habeas corpus’ statute and then it would be barred,” said Sloan.

A habeas petition challenges the evidence of the lawfulness of imprisonment. In court paperwork, Nance argues the habeas procedure shouldn’t apply to his case because he is only challenging the method of his execution.

However, the state of Georgia argued before the Supreme Court that Nance is challenging their custody of him, thereby invalidating the death sentence.

“Even if, you know, the sentence per se still exists in some form, if you no longer can be executed then that’s a bar against custody,” said Stephen Petrany, Georgia’s Solicitor General Counsel of Record.

Lawyers for Georgia add the real problem here is if the state can enforce the execution.

Nance’s lawyer argues a firing squad is feasible.

The Supreme Court has previously ruled that executions by firing squad, the electric chair and lethal injection passed Constitutional muster.

The Supreme Court is expected to make its ruling before the end of June.

Nance was sentenced to death in 2002 for the death of Gabor Balogh in Gwinnett County, Georgia.

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