Conditions on Louisiana’s Death Row Violate the U.S. Constitution’s Ban on Cruel and Unusual Punishment

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has confirmed that the conditions on Louisiana’s death row violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban on Cruel and Unusual Punishment.  

The court issued the opinion in Ball et al. v. LeBlanc et al. on July 8, 2015.  The opinion, authored by Circuit Judge Edith Jones, upholds the district court’s finding that the extreme heat on death row – where the heat index regularly exceeds 100 degrees for hours or days on end – violates the plaintiffs’ 8th Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment because the heat conditions subject the plaintiffs to a substantial risk of serious harm. 

 

This 8th Amendment violation is at the heart of this litigation, and it is significant that the Fifth Circuit agreed with the district court on this point.  Two of the three panel judges, however, decided that ordering the prison to follow through on its plan to install air conditioning is too broad a remedy, and remanded the case to the district court for further consideration on how to fix the ongoing constitutional violation.  The third member of the panel, Judge Reavley, dissented with his colleagues, stating that he “would affirm the district court’s injunction which in principal only orders the heat index in the Angola death row tiers to be maintained below 88 degrees.” 

Conditions on Louisiana’s Death Row Violate the U.S. Constitution’s Ban on Cruel and Unusual Punishment
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