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Supreme Court blocks Alabama execution

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] upheld a stay [order, PDF] of execution for Alabama inmate Vernon Madison on Thursday. In a 4-4 order, the court upheld the stay issued by the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website]. Madison had argued that he was mentally incompetent due to several strokes and vascular dementia. Based upon precedent set in Ford v. Wainwright and Panetti v. Quarterman [opinions], he claims that he is not fit to be executed under the Eighth Amendment. His appeal from the initial state court decision allowing his execution was accepted by the lower federal court, but denied on the merits. The Eleventh Circuit held [stay, PDF] that Madison should be able to appeal the denial of his Ford appeal for two reasons. First, "jurists of reason could disagree with the district court's resolution of his constitutional claims," and second, "jurists could conclude the issues presented are adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further." Important in the court's analysis was that Ford appeals are generally only justiciable when "a petitioner's execution is imminent." The court reasoned that because Madison's death would "render his appeal moot," the motion for stay of execution must be granted until the issues of reasonable application of law and fact were resolved.

Capital punishment [JURIST op-ed] remains a controversial issue in the US and worldwide. Last month Virginia's General Assembly voted [JURIST report] to keep secret the identities of suppliers of lethal injection drugs. In February the Eleventh Circuit rejected [JURIST report] a Georgia death row inmate's legal challenge to the death penalty. In January Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood stated that he plans to ask lawmakers to approve the firing squad, electrocution or nitrogen gas as alternate methods of execution if the state prohibits lethal injection [JURIST report]. The Supreme Court in January ruled [JURIST report] in Kansas v. Carr [opinion, PDF] that a jury in a death penalty case does not need to be advised that mitigating factors, which can lessen the severity of a criminal act, do not need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt like aggravating factors.

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