Court: NC may need to develop death penalty rules

Posted March 18, 2014

The death chamber at Central Prison in Raleigh, which houses the state's death row.

— The North Carolina Court of Appeals has sent a case challenging the state's death penalty procedures back to Superior Court so that a judge there can decide a technical matter in the case.

North Carolina has not executed an inmate on death row since August 2006 due to a complex set of cases that challenged whether the state was constitutionally executing people, as well as due to the now-repealed Racial Justice Act, which allowed death row inmates to challenge their sentences.

This case – brought by inmates Marcus Robinson, James Edward Thomas, Archie Lee Billings and James A. Campell – involves the method by which prisoners are executed. Those prisoners had challenged what had been the state's three-drug death penalty protocol as cruel and unusual punishment.

North Carolina's Department of Public Safety changed the method the state would use to execute prisoners in late 2013. Instead of three different drugs, the state would administer a single drug under the new rules.

That change, said the court, got rid of issues of "cruel and unusual punishment" that had been argued in the case. However, the prisoners who brought the challenge argued that the new protocol had not gone through the proper rules review process.

Writing for a three-judge panel, Judge Robert C. Hunter ruled that the lower court had not taken evidence on that issue, and therefore, the Court of Appeals didn't have enough information to decide that issue.

"Because this Court may not pass on legal issues for the first time on appeal, we remand to the trial court so that it may properly determine this matter and develop an adequate record for any subsequent appellate review," Hunter wrote. 

It's unclear for how much longer this case will tie the death penalty up in litigation, even though the issue seems to be fairly technical one. 

"There are very legitimate issues as to whether the process has to go through the rule making process," said Robert Orr, a former state Supreme Court Justice who is working for the prisoners. 

In a recent change to state law, legislators said that the Secretary of Crime Control and Public Safety could develop a new execution protocol without going through the state's formal rule making process. However, Orr pointed out that the new manual developed by the Department of Public Safety deals with a range of issues beyond how a prisoner might be executed.

As an example, Orr said, "This controls the extent of press coverage and how it is handled."


This blog post is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • dollibug Mar 19, 2014

    I think we all know that just because a person is indicted, tried and convicted.....it does NOT always mean that the accused and convicted person did the crime. There is a lot of corruption and cover up within the government agencies and only when and if this is cleaned up and people can be 100% sure that a person is indeed GUILTY of the crime that he/she was accused of.....then we do not even need the death penalty... PERHAPS the lawmakers should make sure the people who are supposed to enforce the laws and uphold them DO THEIR JOBS in a professional manner FIRST and then worry about how to proceed.

  • govtpackmule Mar 19, 2014

    Criminal's aren't afraid to break the law because there is no punishment. If we want a decrease in crime, we need to let the criminals know that they will suffer the consequences not given a roof over their heads.-- LuvMyLife

    This is EXACTLY the problem. Get rid of the entertainment and the make prison a place no one ever wants to step foot in again. Bring back hard labor and quite coddling criminals. For many criminals prison is better living than the "outside".

  • Jason Merrill Mar 19, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    I did not say appropriate, I said justified. In my opinion their is no "maximum' penalty for him. He should suffer every single thing he did to that poor defenseless child at least twice. Giving him a nice peaceful death with a needle in the arm is way too good for him. And you are right the death penalty did not deter him from the crimes, neither did a life in prison. Clearly no possible punishment inhibited him, so whether he is sentenced to death or not is irrelevant. He was not in fear of any punishment or he would not have done the things he did. There can be no rehabilitation for a person like that. Society is better off with him dead and buried.

  • Wayne Uber Mar 19, 2014
    user avatar

    Claims that the new procedure are cruel or inhumane are patently false (frivolous)! http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-imagined-horror-of-dennis-mcguires.html

  • jurydoc Mar 18, 2014

    View quoted thread

    I am opposed to the death penalty and I don't view it as excessively harsh. I view it as fraught with inequality, bias, discretion, arbitrariness, capriciousness and subject to all of these things ad infinitum as long as humans are administering it. That is the source of my opposition. We have tried for decades to find an objective, consistent, fair and rational application of the death penalty and we continue to fail miserably. As long as this is the case, I have no choice but to oppose it.

  • robkeehner Mar 18, 2014

    People opposed to the death penalty view it as excessively harsh punishment. That isn't what it is. It is culling society of people that are not fit through their own actions to be in it.

  • Terry Watts Mar 18, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    "I don't want knowledge. I want certainty." - David Bowie

  • sabsco Mar 18, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Death? Castration and then death? Having his face peeled off, then castration, then death? I mean, how far do you want to go? In a civilized society, there is no "appropriate" punishment for the person who did that. There is only an agreed to "maximum" punishment - which is what we are discussing here. The death penalty clearly didn't inhibit him from doing what he did.

  • dwr1964 Mar 18, 2014

    Anyone convicted of capitol murder, child abuse or rape of a person, (no matter the sex of the person), should be given the death penalty. Once they are sentenced, they will have 2 appeals or 90 days, whichever is reached first. Any appeals from these people, must be heard in no more than 30 days from the filing. When the case has reached it's maturity, the sentenced is carried out immediately. For this to be effective, it must work exactly the same for all who are sentenced to death, with no exceptions.

  • Jason Merrill Mar 18, 2014
    user avatar

    For all of you opposed to the death penalty, what do think is a justified punishment for someone like the monster who allegedly sexually assaulted and murdered that poor child from Smithfield?