Supreme Court to hear complex death row case

Georgia inmate Michael Nance argues lethal injection is ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ and wants a firing squad.
Michael Nance petitions Supreme Court to hear complex death row case asking for execution by...
Michael Nance petitions Supreme Court to hear complex death row case asking for execution by firing squad
Published: Apr. 22, 2022 at 2:23 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The case of a death row inmate who wants to choose how he is executed will now go before the United States Supreme Court.

Georgia inmate Michael Nance wants to die by firing squad and not by lethal injection. He argues lethal injection violates his eighth amendment right that protects people from cruel and unusual punishment. His legal argument centers in large part on how his own unique medical conditions have compromised his veins. He argues that will make lethal injection painful. However, a firing squad is not an approved method of execution in the state of Georgia.

A lawyer who represents Nance, Jenner & Block Partner Matthew Hellman, told the Washington News Bureau in a statement: “This case is about whether a prisoner can challenge a method of execution as unconstitutionally cruel even when it is the only method that the State has adopted. If the answer is no, the courthouse doors will be closed to many prisoners who simply seek to have their death sentences carried out in a humane and lawful manner.”

Cliff Sloan, a professor at Georgetown Law University, also spoke to the Washington News Bureau about the case. He has previously argued several cases successfully before the Supreme Court on behalf of death row inmates.

“What is at issue is when a method of execution would cause severe pain to somebody. And, that should trouble us all and that should make us all want to make sure that that person can bring that claim to court,” said Sloan.

Sloan said in the case of Nance, the court will be forced to decide the procedure Nance can use to fight his method of execution. He said that decision could make it easier or harder for other inmates across the country to pursue similar legal challenges.

“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.

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.

The Supreme Court has previously ruled executions such as lethal injection, the electric chair, and firing squad pass legal muster. The justices are scheduled to hear the proceedings on Monday.

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

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