Facts: Petitioner Cal Brown, a prisoner who had been sentenced to death following his conviction for murder, filed suit against respondent Eldon Vail, the secretary of the Washington Department of Corrections, in the Superior Court for Thurston County, asserting that the lethal injection protocol employed by the state for executions constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8th Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I §14 of the Washington State Constitution insofar as unnecessary pain might be inflicted if the protocol were not carried out properly, that the Department of Corrections had not been properly delegated the authority to determine the lethal injection protocol by the legislature in Washington Revised Code §10.95.180(1), and that the lethal injection protocol violates both state (Washington Revised Code §69.50) and federal (21 U.S.C. §801-971) controlled substance statutes. The trial court dismissed Brown’s claims and affirmed the constitutionality of the lethal injection protocol. Although the Department of Corrections had in the interim revised the lethal injection protocol in order to lessen the risk of the unnecessary infliction of pain, Brown appealed the trial court’s decision to the Supreme Court of Washington.
Question(s): Did the legislature properly delegate authority for determining the lethal injection protocol to the Department of Corrections?
Does the lethal injection protocol violate state and federal controlled substance statutes?
Is Brown’s challenge to the constitutionality of lethal injection protocol moot?
Conclusion: Justice Stephens’ opinion for a unanimous Court ruled that the delegation of authority to determine the lethal injection protocol by the legislature to the Department of Corrections was proper, finding that authorization to establish the lethal injection protocol could be inferred from the express authorization in §10.95.180(1) to supervise executions by lethal injection and that §10.95.180(1) established adequate procedural safeguards. The Court also held that the lethal injection protocol was not inconsistent with state and federal controlled substance statutes as it was not the intent of these statutes to regulate execution procedures. Finally, the Court concluded that Brown’s constitutional challenge to the lethal injection protocol had been mooted by the change in protocol.
[Consolidated with Docket Number 83828-3, Stenson v. Vail]
Docket No. 83474-1; 83828-3
Petitioner: Cal Brown
(Counsel: Sherilyn Christine Peterson and Diane Marie Meyers)
Respondent: Eldon Vail
(Counsel: Sara J. Di Vittorio and John Joseph Samson)
Argument: Thursday, March 18, 2010 9:00am
[Source: TVW, http://tvw.org]
Audio: Washington Supreme Court
Decided: Thursday, July 29th, 2010
Prevailing Party: Eldon Vail (Respondent)
Note: We post only slip opinion(s) as published at the time of the decision. Please consult Washington Reports printed volumes for the opinion(s) in their final form.