ILNews

Nebraska: Electric chair unconstitutional

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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A landmark ruling from the Nebraska Supreme Court this morning means that the last state allowing electric chair executions can't use the method because it's considered cruel and unusual punishment.

The 6-1 ruling today in State of Nebraska v. Richard Mata, Jr., S-05-1268, affirms the death sentence but stays the execution. The court decided that the legislature may vote to have a death penalty but not one that offends rights under the state constitution. Because the decision is based solely on state law, the U.S. Supreme Court won't review the ruling.

The court ruled on the case of Raymond Mata Jr., who was convicted by a jury for the May 1999 kidnapping, murder, and dismemberment of 3-year-old Adam Gomez, his ex-girlfriend's son. A three-judge panel later sentenced him to die.

"We recognize the temptation to make the prisoner suffer, just as the prisoner made an innocent victim suffer," Justice William Connolly wrote. "But it is the hallmark of a civilized society that we punish cruelty without practicing it. Condemned prisoners must not be tortured to death, regardless of their crimes."

Chief Justice Michael Heavican disagreed in a 17-page dissent that execution was "cruel and unusual," noting that he sincerely believes this precedent will have adverse consequences on future cases. But he joined the majority on a variety of other issues in the case, including that Mata should be executed for the crime.

This decision comes at a time when state and federal courts, along with the 36 states allowing the death penalty, are struggling with these issues. All states except Nebraska - including Indiana - use a three-chemical lethal injection method, which is currently being challenged in the nation's highest court. Justices heard arguments in January on a case involving two Kentucky condemned inmates.

All that debate and today's Nebraska decision gives Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, three Indiana attorneys, and a law professor something more to talk about on a radio show this weekend.

As part of his "Crime Beat" program airing at 8 p.m. Sunday, Brizzi will tackle the death penalty through the eyes of the prosecution, defense, and academia. Guests include Rick Kammen, Gilroy Kammen & Hill, and Bob Hammerle, Hammerle & Allen, both on the defense side; David Wyser, Marion County Prosecutor's Office; and professor Henry Karlson, Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis.

The live, weekly show airs on WIBC, 93.1 F.M. from 8 to 10 p.m. Sundays. Brizzi discusses matters relating to public safety, the justice system, and current events. Following the Feb. 10 show, the program moves to its new regular timeslot at 3 to 5 p.m. Saturdays.
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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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