GLASS v. LOUISIANA
471 U.S. 1080 (1985)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

GLASS v. LOUISIANA , 471 U.S. 1080 (1985)

471 U.S. 1080

Jimmy L. GLASS
v.
LOUISIANA
No. 84-6030

Supreme Court of the United States

April 29, 1985

Rehearing Denied June 24, 1985.

See 472 U.S. 1033.

On petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Louisiana.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice BRENNAN, with whom Justice MARSHALL joins, dissenting from denial of certiorari.

The petitioner Jimmy L. Glass has been condemned to death by electrocution-"that is, causing to pass through the body of the person convicted a current of electricity of sufficient intensity to cause death, and the application and continuance of such current through the body of the person convicted until such person is dead." La.Rev.Stat.Ann. 15: 569 (West 1981). Glass contends that "electrocution causes the gratuitous infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering and does not comport with evolving standards of human dignity," [ Glass v. Louisiana 471 U.S. 1080 (1985) ][1080-Continued.]

and that this method of officially sponsored execution therefore violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Pet. for Cert. 27. The Supreme Court of Louisiana held that this claim must summarily be rejected pursuant to "clearly established principles of law" and observed that, in any event, the claim is wholly lacking in medical or scientific merit. 455 So.2d 659, 660, 671 (1984).

I adhere to my view that the death penalty is in all circumstances cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 227, 2950, 49 L. Ed.2d 859 (1976) (BRENNAN, J., dissenting), and would therefore grant certiorari and vacate Glass' death sentence in any event. One of the reasons I adhere to this view is my belief that the "physical and mental suffering" inherent in any method of execution is so "uniquely degrading to human dignity" that, when combined with the arbitrariness by which capital punishment is imposed, the trend of enlightened opinion, and the availability of less severe penological alternatives, the death penalty is always unconstitutional. Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 287-291, 92 S. Ct. 2726, 2751-2753 (1972).

Even if I thought otherwise, however, I would vote to grant certiorari. Glass' petition presents an important and unsettling

Page 471 U.S. 1080 , 1081

question that cuts to the very heart of the Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause 1-a question that demands measured judicial consideration. Of the 42 officially sponsored executions carried out since the Court's decision in Gregg v. Georgia, supra, 31 have been by means of electrocution. [Footnote 2] And since Gregg, an ever-increasing number of condemned prisoners have contended that electrocution is a cruel and barbaric method of extinguishing human life, both per se and as compared with other available means of execution. As in this case, such claims have uniformly and summarily been rejected,3 typically on the strength of this Court's opinion in In re Kemmler, 136 U.S. 436 (1890), which authorized the State of New York to proceed with the first electrocution 95 years ago. Kemmler, however, was grounded on a number of constitutional premises that have long since been rejected and on factual assumptions that appear not to have withstood the test of experience. I believe the time has come to measure electrocution against well-established contemporary Eighth Amendment principles. [471 U.S. 1080 , 1082]


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