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Supreme Court considers lethal injection challenge, RICO case

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Wednesday considered whether a death row inmate can challenge the constitutionality of a state's method of lethal injection [JURIST news archive] under 42 USC 1983 [text] even when all other appeals have been exhausted. The court agreed to hear [JURIST report] Hill v. McDonough [Duke Law case backgrounder; merit briefs] after granting a last minute stay of execution for Clarence Hill [NCADP profile], who has been sentenced to death in Florida for the 1982 killing of a police officer. Hill has argued that the chemicals used by Florida and several other states in lethal injections cause unnecessary pain and suffering and therefore constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. In similar challenges recently, California ruled that medical professionals must monitor executions [JURIST report] and a federal judge in North Carolina authorized the use of a brain-wave monitor [JURIST report] to ensure that a prisoner was not conscious during execution. The Supreme Court will not rule directly on the constitutionality of lethal injection, and Justice Scalia seemed skeptical of allowing Hill to pursue his claim, noting that he has already been on death row for over 20 years. AP has more.

The Court also heard arguments Wednesday in Mohawk Industries v. Williams [Duke Law case backgrounder; merit briefs], where it will decide whether a corporation and its agents constitute an "enterprise" under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act [text]; in order for civil RICO liability to attach, the defendant must "conduct" or "participate in" affairs of a larger enterprise beyond its own internal affairs. Mohawk employees sued the company, alleging that the company conspired with third-party recruiters to hire illegal immigrants in order to reduce labor costs. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed [opinion, PDF] the district court's holding that the company's collaborations with the recruiters constitutes an "enterprise" under RICO. Justice Breyer seemed unconvinced that Congress meant RICO to cover "vast amounts of commercial activities" that are unrelated to organized crime. Chief Justice Roberts said the lawsuit should have perhaps relied on a general criminal conspiracy theory, rather than RICO, and Justice Scalia said that the lower courts shouldn't attempt to examine the "minds of corporations" in order to determine whether corporations are participating in a separate enterprise or conducting their own internal affairs. AP has more.

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