Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Harbison v. Little case brief

Harbison v. Little case brief summary
511 F. Supp. 2d 872 (M.D. Tenn. 2007)

Plaintiff, a state death row inmate, filed suit against defendant, the Tennessee Commissioner of Correction and others, under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, alleging that defendants' newly adopted lethal injection protocol violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The court conducted a bench trial.

At issue was whether Tennessee's three-drug lethal injection protocol involved the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.


  • The inmate had to demonstrate both an objective and subjective component. The objective component required that the pain be serious, and the subjective component required that the conduct on the part of the prison official be "wanton."
  • Entering judgment for the inmate, the court found that the objective component was proven because 
  • (1) it was undisputed that, without proper anaesthesia, the use of the second two drugs would result in a terrifying, excruciating death; 
  • (2) the protocol did not employ measures to ensure that the inmate would be unconscious when the second and third drugs were administered; 
  • (3) there was a failure to utilize adequately trained executioners; and 
  • (4) there was a failure to adequately monitor administration of the dugs. 
  • The objective component of the test was met because the Commissioner's failure to provide for safeguards constituted deliberate indifference; the Commissioner was aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm to the inmate existed, and he also drew the inference.

The court entered judgment in the inmate's favor, enjoining defendants from executing the inmate under the current execution procedures for lethal injection.

Recommended Supplements for Criminal Procedure Criminal Procedure: Examples & Explanations, Sixth Edition
Emanuel Law Outline: Criminal Procedure

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