Published on: Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Today, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in Bucklew v. Precythe, No.17-8151, which raises as-applied constitutional challenges to Missouri’s lethal injection procedure based on the prisoner’s suffering from the rare disease cavernous hemangioma. Mr. Bucklew’s disease is “progressive, and has caused unstable, blood-filled tumors to grow in his head, neck and throat,” among other medical issues. In short, Mr. Bucklew asserts he “is highly likely to experience the … the excruciating pain of prolonged suffocation resulting from the complete obstruction of his airway” while undergoing Missouri’s lethal-injection protocol.  

Mr. Bucklew’s case presents the following four issues:   

  1.  Should a court evaluating an as-applied challenge to a state's method of execution based on an inmate's rare and severe medical condition assume that medical personnel are competent to manage his condition and that the procedure will go as intended?
  2. Must evidence comparing a state's proposed method of execution with an alternative proposed by an inmate be offered via a single witness, or should a court at summary judgment look to the record as a whole to determine whether a factfinder could conclude that the two methods significantly differ in the risks they pose to the inmate?
  3. Does the Eighth Amendment require an inmate to prove an adequate alternative method of execution when raising an as-applied challenge to the state's proposed method of execution based on his rare and severe medical condition?
  4. Whether petitioner met his burden under Glossip v. Gross, 235 S. Ct. 2726 (2015), to prove what procedures would be used to administer his proposed alternative method of execution, the severity and duration of pain likely to be produced, and how they compare to the state’s method of execution.

Briefing on the merits and a transcript of the oral argument are available on the Supreme Court’s website.  The Training Division provides resources to capital defendants through the Capital Case Network