U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Lethal Injection

On December 12, 2016 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear hear a challenge from death row inmate, Romell Broom, who argued that because the state mishandled the first attempt to execute him, a second attempt would be unconstitutional. Although Justice Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan said they would have granted the appeal to decide the issue, the Court turned down the case in a brief one-line order.

When Broom was 28 years old, he was sentenced to death for raping and murdering Tryna Middleton as she walked home from a football game in 1984 in east Cleveland. Broom has denied killing Middleton, writing to NBC News in June 2015, “I have always claimed by innocence in this case and have been requesting a DNA test for years. Many other cases have shown that forensic tests in the 80s and 90s were not reliable.” After many appeals, Broom was moved to the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville in 2009. During the first attempt at lethal injection, Ohio prison team members struggled for over an hour to prepare Broom for lethal injection. This included inserting needles at least 18 times into his arms, wrists, hands, and ankles, but the team could not find a vein that would hold. Attempts even caused Broom to scream out in pain.

Broom’s attorneys argued “[t]o force a man to prepare for his death – not once but twice – and the second time with the full knowledge of the error of the first, is an elevation of punishment repugnant to our Constitution.” Here, they stated that another attempt would amount to unconstitutional double jeopardy. Many know double jeopardy as a rule that prevents a person from being put on a trial a second time for the same offense. However, this rule also pertain to multiple punishments for the same crime.

The fifth amendment of the United States Constitution provides “nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb…”The essential protections included are:

  • A second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal;
  • A second prosecution for the same offense after conviction; and
  • Multiple punishments for the same offense

In terms of multiple punishments, the principal is that all or part of a maximum permissible punishment, which has been once endured, should not be endured again for the same offense.  Furthermore, if part of a punishment has already been served, it must be fully credited upon another punishment for the same offense. However, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected Broom’s appeal, stating that he was never actually in jeopardy of execution during the first attempt because the act of inserting needles into his veins occurred in a holding cell and not the death chamber. Further, the lethal chemicals had not yet begun to flow.

If you or someone you know is the subject of a case in which you believe the fifth amendment right of double jeopardy is at risk, please contact the skilled attorneys at Shein & Brandenburg.  Our dedicated team with work with you to assist in your case and ensure that your constitutional rights are met.