Section 1983 No Hinderance To Executions

That was more or less my take on Hill v. McDonough, the Scotus case that last term said death row inmates could use civil procedures to challenge the manner of execution.

One of the reasons I though the decision was more noise than substance was the Court’s statement that the applicability of section 1983 did not of itself warrant a stay of execution. In other words, there may be a valid claim, but lower courts do not need to put the execution procedures on hold in order to hear it. If the defendant is killed prior to a resolution of the claim, well, he should have filed it sooner.

Friday, the Eleventh Circuit confronted that situation in the case of the petitioner in the Scotus case, Clarence Hill. The trial court dismissed Hill’s 1983 claim, and Hill appealed it. Problem: Hill’s execution is scheduled to occur long before the appeal would be resolved. Hill’s proposed solution: Delay the execution until the appeal is resolved. The Eleventh Circuit’s answer:

[T]he equities do not support Hill’s request. Simply put, Hill was the architect of the very trap from which he now seeks relief.

At the outset, Hill filed his § 1983 complaint four days before his previously scheduled execution date of January 24, 2006, and just after the Florida Supreme Court rejected his application for post-conviction relief on, among other grounds, his challenge to the Florida lethal injection protocol. See Hill v. State, 921 So. 2d 579, 582–83 (Fla. 2006).

Hill’s assertion of essentially the same lethal injection The Florida Supreme Court relied on Sims in rejecting Hill’s lethal injection challenge during post-conviction proceedings. Hill v. State, 921 So. 2d at 582–83. challenge in the Florida courts reveals that he was aware of the grounds for the claim much earlier than the date on which he actually filed his § 1983 action in federal district court.

But we need not rely on that inference alone to determine that Hill unreasonably delayed in filing his federal complaint. The Florida Supreme Court considered a challenge to the Florida lethal injection protocols on similar grounds as early as 2000. Sims v. State, 754 So. 2d 657, 666–68 (Fla. 2000). Although it is unclear from the procedural history whether Hill addressed the Sims precedent in his post-conviction proceedings after 2000, the fact remains that, during the pendency of his various collateral challenges, Florida had considered the same type of claim upon which Hill now seeks relief. In light of this context, Hill cannot claim that it was impossible for him to initiate his federal suit any earlier.

Further, with regard to more recent procedural history, Hill has again demonstrated his intent to delay proceedings in order to necessitate a stay. After the district court denied his request for injunctive relief and dismissed his complaint, Hill moved for reconsideration and, again, for a stay of execution. The district court denied his motions on September 11, 2006, noting that “Hill’s emotionally-laden arguments raise no new evidence. . . . [I]t appears that Hill is engaging in dilatory tactics to delay a death sentence.” Order Denying Motion for Reconsideration and Motion for Stay at 2–3, Hill v. McDonough, No. 4:06-CV- 032-SPM (N.D. Fla. Sept. 11, 2006). By moving for reconsideration, Hill only further delayed this court’s receipt of his case on appeal, bringing us within days of his scheduled execution before he filed the instant motion for a stay and expedited appeal.

In light of Hill’s actions in this case, which can only be described as dilatory, we join our sister circuits in declining to allow further litigation of a § 1983 case filed essentially on the eve of execution.

My civil procedure professor used to tell us that in many cases procedure becomes substance. I think Clarence Hill would agree.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Appellate And Post-Conviction Issues, Capital Punishment, Eleventh Circuit, Scotus

2 Comments on “Section 1983 No Hinderance To Executions”

  1. Willie Says:

    Way too heavy for me. I just wonder why the US even has the death penalty. Has any middle class or higher person ever been sentenced to death lately. As do most countries in the world, throw them in prison for atleast 40 years. If they are as bad as the angry lady DA says they are, the prison system will sort that out.


  2. […] I posted about an earlier decision here. This one reaches the same result: The court finds that the inmate waited too long to raise the issue, so it evades the merits and dismisses the suit, leaving the state free to kill the inmate. […]


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