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United States: Execution by Electrocution Held Unconstitutional in Nebraska

(Feb. 2, 2008) On February 8, 2008 the Supreme Court of Nebraska held that execution by means of electrocution constituted "cruel and unusual punishment" under Article I, Section 9 of the Nebraska Constitution and thus that electrocution could no longer be used as a method of execution by the State of Nebraska. Nebraska was the only remaining state in the United States which mandated electrocution as its method of execution.

The court stated that "the relevant legal standards in deciding whether electrocution is cruel and unusual punishment are whether the State's chosen method of execution (1) presents a substantial risk that a prisoner will suffer unnecessary and wanton pain in an execution, (2) violates the evolving standards of decency that mark a mature society, and (3) minimizes physical violence and mutilation of the prisoner's body." The court evaluated the evidence presented in the trial court and determined that under these standards, execution by electrocution violated the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment in the state's constitution.

The court did not overturn the defendant's death sentence, but instead stayed the execution until a constitutionally acceptable method of execution was available. (State of Nebraska v. Mata, No. S-05-1268 (Neb. Feb. 8, 2008) available at http://www.supremecourt.ne.gov/opinions/2008/february/feb8/s05-1268.pdf.)