In re Federal Bureau of Prisons' Execution Protocol Cases, 040720 FEDDC, 19-5322
|Opinion Judge:||PER CURIAM.|
|Party Name:||In re: Federal Bureau of Prisons' Execution Protocol Cases, v. William P. Barr, Attorney General, et al., Appellants James H. Roane, Jr., et al., Appellees|
|Attorney:||Melissa N. Patterson, Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, argued the cause for appellants. With her on the briefs were Joseph H. Hunt, Assistant Attorney General, Jessie K. Liu, U.S. Attorney, Hashim M. Mooppan, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Paul R. Perkins, Special Counsel, and Mark B. St...|
|Judge Panel:||Before: Tatel, Katsas, and Rao, Circuit Judges. Katsas, Circuit Judge, concurring: Rao, Circuit Judge, concurring: Tatel, Circuit Judge, dissenting:|
|Case Date:||April 07, 2020|
|Court:||United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit|
Argued January 15, 2020
Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:19-mc-00145)
Melissa N. Patterson, Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, argued the cause for appellants. With her on the briefs were Joseph H. Hunt, Assistant Attorney General, Jessie K. Liu, U.S. Attorney, Hashim M. Mooppan, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Paul R. Perkins, Special Counsel, and Mark B. Stern, Attorney.
Catherine E. Stetson argued the cause for appellees. With her on the brief were Sundeep Iyer, Pieter Van Tol, Joshua M. Koppel, Arin Smith, Jon Jeffress, Alan E. Schoenfeld, Stephanie Simon, and Shawn Nolan, Assistant Federal Public Defender.
Before: Tatel, Katsas, and Rao, Circuit Judges.
The Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 (FDPA) requires federal executions to be implemented "in the manner prescribed by the law of the State in which the sentence is imposed." 18 U.S.C. § 3596(a). It is common ground that this provision requires the federal government to adhere at least to a State's choice among execution methods such as hanging, electrocution, or lethal injection. The district court held that the FDPA also requires the federal government to follow all the subsidiary details set forth in state execution protocols-such as, in the case of lethal injection, the method of inserting an intravenous catheter. On that basis, the court preliminarily enjoined four federal executions.
Each member of the panel takes a different view of what the FDPA requires. Because two of us believe that the district court misconstrued the FDPA, we vacate the preliminary injunction.
On three different occasions, Congress has addressed the "manner" of implementing the death penalty for federal capital offenses. In the Crimes Act of 1790, the First Congress specified that "the manner of inflicting the punishment of death, shall be by hanging the person convicted by the neck until dead." Crimes Act of 1790, ch. 9, § 33, 1 Stat. 112, 119. This provision governed federal executions for over 140 years.
In 1937, Congress changed this rule to make the "manner" of federal executions follow state law. Specifically, Congress provided: The manner of inflicting the punishment of death shall be the manner prescribed by the laws of the State within which the sentence is imposed. The United States marshal charged with the execution of the sentence may use available State or local facilities and the services of an appropriate State or local official or employ some other person for such purpose …. If the laws of the State within which sentence is imposed make no provision for the infliction of the penalty of death, then the court shall designate some other State in which such sentence shall be executed in the manner prescribed by the laws thereof.
An Act To Provide for the Manner of Inflicting the Punishment of Death, Pub. L. No. 75-156, 50 Stat. 304 (1937). Congress repealed this provision in 1984, see Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, Pub. L. No. 98-473, § 212, 98 Stat. 1987, but left intact the underlying capital offenses. Accordingly, federal law still authorized the death penalty, but no federal statute specified how it would be carried out.
To fill this gap, the Attorney General promulgated a 1993 regulation titled "Implementation of Death Sentences in Federal Cases." 58 Fed. Reg. 4898, 4901-02 (Jan. 19, 1993). It provides that, unless a court orders otherwise, the "method of execution" of a federal death sentence shall be "[b]y intravenous injection of a lethal substance or substances in a quantity sufficient to cause death, such substance or substances to be determined by the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons." 28 C.F.R. § 26.3(a)(4) (2019). The regulation also addresses various other matters including the time and place of execution, when the prisoner must be notified of the execution, and who may attend it. Id. §§ 26.3-26.5.
Congress enacted the FDPA in 1994. Under the FDPA, as under the 1937 statute, the "manner" of implementing federal death sentences turns on state law. In pertinent part, the FDPA provides that a United States marshal shall supervise implementation of the sentence in the manner prescribed by the law of the State in which the sentence is imposed. If the law of the State does not provide for implementation of a sentence of death, the court shall designate another State, the law of which does provide for the implementation of a sentence of death, and the sentence shall be implemented in the latter State in the manner prescribed by such law.
18 U.S.C. § 3596(a). The FDPA also provides that a marshal overseeing an execution "may use appropriate State or local facilities" and "may use the services of an appropriate State or local official." Id. § 3597(a).
At various times since 2001, the Department of Justice has developed protocols setting forth the precise details for carrying out federal executions. One such protocol was adopted in 2004 and updated in 2019. As updated, the protocol "provides specific time related checklists for pre-execution, execution, and post execution procedures, as well as detailed procedures related to the execution process, command center operations, contingency planning, news media procedures, and handling stays, commutations and other delays." App. 24. This 50-page document addresses, among other things, witnesses for the execution, the prisoner's final meal and final statement, strapping the prisoner to the gurney, opening and closing the drapes to the execution chamber, injecting the lethal substances, and disposing of the prisoner's body and property.
For the three federal executions conducted between 2001 and 2003, the Bureau of Prisons used a combination of three lethal substances-sodium thiopental, a barbiturate that "induces a deep, comalike unconsciousness when given in the amounts used for lethal injection," Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35, 44 (2008) (plurality opinion); pancuronium bromide, which stops breathing; and potassium chloride, which induces cardiac arrest. None of the three prisoners challenged these procedures. In 2008, the Bureau memorialized its use of the three substances in an addendum to its 2004 execution protocol, and the Supreme Court held that Kentucky's use of the same three substances for executions did not violate the Eighth Amendment, see id. at 44, 63; id. at 94 (Thomas, J., concurring in judgment). But by 2011, a "practical obstacle" to using sodium thiopental had emerged, "as anti-death penalty advocates pressured pharmaceutical companies to refuse to supply the drug" for executions. Glossip v. Gross, 135 S.Ct. 2726, 2733 (2015).
The Bureau then explored the possible use of other lethal substances. Its personnel visited state execution sites and evaluated their protocols. BOP also consulted with medical experts, reviewed assessments of difficult executions, and studied relevant judicial decisions. It considered several options, including three-drug protocols using other barbiturates, three-drug protocols using weaker sedatives, and one-drug protocols.
After extensive study, the Bureau recommended use of a single barbiturate-pentobarbital-to carry out federal executions. It noted that many recent state executions had used pentobarbital without difficulty and that courts repeatedly have upheld the constitutionality of its use for executions. Further, BOP had located a "viable source" for obtaining it. App. 15, 19.
For these reasons, the Bureau proposed a two-page addendum to its main execution protocol. The United States Marshals Service concurred in the proposal. On July 24, 2019, the Attorney General approved the addendum and directed the Bureau to adopt it. BOP did so the next day. This 2019 addendum makes pentobarbital the sole lethal substance to be used in federal executions. The addendum also specifies procedural details such as dosage, identification of appropriate injection sites, and the number of backup syringes.
This appeal arises from several consolidated cases in which twelve death-row inmates challenge the federal execution protocol. The first of these cases was filed in 2005, by three inmates who are not parties to this appeal. With the government's consent, the district court stayed their executions pending the decision in Hill v. McDonough, 547 U.S. 573 (2006). The government subsequently requested that the case be stayed pending the decision in Baze. With no objection from the inmates, the district court granted the request. In 2011, the government announced that it lacked the substances necessary to implement its execution protocol. From then through 2019, the consolidated cases were stayed, and the government submitted status reports explaining that its revision of the protocol was ongoing. During that time, one of the plaintiffs involved in this appeal-Alfred Bourgeois-filed a complaint challenging the unrevised protocol. On the parties' joint motion, that lawsuit was stayed pending the revision.
On July 25, 2019, the Department of Justice informed the district court that it had adopted a revised protocol providing for the use of pentobarbital. That same day, DOJ set execution dates for the four plaintiffs involved in this appeal: Daniel Lee, Wesley Purkey, Dustin Honken, and Bourgeois. Each of them moved for a preliminary injunction. Collectively, they claimed that the 2019 protocol and addendum violate the FDPA, the Administrative Procedure Act, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the Controlled...
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