The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the written protocol by which the Tennessee Department of Correction carries out an execution by lethal injection, clearing the way for executions to resume.
The plaintiffs in this matter, both of whom have been convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death, brought a declaratory judgment action in the trial court challenging the constitutionality of the lethal injection protocol under both the United States and Tennessee Constitutions. This protocol was adopted in 2013, and provided that inmates who had been sentenced to death were to be executed by injection of a lethal dose of the drug, pentobarbital. The trial court conducted a lengthy evidentiary hearing and eventually denied the plaintiffs relief.
The plaintiffs appealed the trial court’s decision, and the Tennessee Supreme Court assumed jurisdiction over the matter upon the defendants’ filing of a motion to accept jurisdiction. The plaintiffs argued before the Tennessee Supreme Court that the lethal injection protocol is unconstitutional because it creates a substantial risk of serious harm and lingering death and that the trial court erred in dismissing their claim because the protocol requires the State to violate federal drug laws.
In the unanimous opinion authored by Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins, the Court determined that the plaintiffs failed to establish that the lethal injection protocol, on its face, violates constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. In so holding, the Court upheld the constitutionality of the protocol under both the United States and Tennessee Constitutions.
To read the Court’s opinion in Stephen Michael West, et al. v. Derrick D. Schofield, et al., authored by Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins, go to the opinions section of www.TNCourts.gov.