University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Oken v. Sizer CJ-MD-0003
Docket / Court 8:04-cv-01830-PJM ( D. Md. )
State/Territory Maryland
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Case Summary
On June 14, 2004, Steven Howard Oken, a death-sentenced inmate of the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore, Maryland filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Maryland Department of Correction in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. Oken was scheduled to ... read more >
On June 14, 2004, Steven Howard Oken, a death-sentenced inmate of the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore, Maryland filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Maryland Department of Correction in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. Oken was scheduled to be put to death some day during the week of June 14-18, 2004 by lethal injection of three chemicals: Thiopental, Pancurium Bromide, and Potassium Chloride. He objected to this particular combination of chemicals because he claimed that the way the defendants administered them would cause him to consciously suffer an excrutiatingly painful and protracted death. Specifically, Oken feared that because Thiopental was only supposed to work as a sedative for a few minutes, he would suffocate to death due to the paralyzing effects of the other two drugs, all the while feeling excrutiating pain caused by the extremely painful burning sensation that potassium chloride causes as it courses through the body. Due to these concerns, Oken asked the District Court for a temporary restraining order (TRO) and a preliminary injunction barring the defendants from executing him in the way they intended.

On the same day that the complaint was filed, the District Court held a hearing to consider Oken's request for a stay of execution, and the next day, the court (Judge Peter J. Messitte) issued an opinion staying the execution until the court had time to further consider the case. The court noted that it was troubled by the fact that the plaintiff had never been provided with a complete copy of the defendants' newly developed execution protocol, and that the information they had provided to him had been provided at the last minute, leaving him little time to examine it with his attorneys. Oken v. Sizer, 321 F.Supp.2d 658 (D.Md. 2004).

The defendants appealed the District Court's decision to stay the execution, and on June 16, 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit refused to overturn the District Court's decision. The defendants requested review by the U.S. Supreme Court, and on the same day, the Supreme Court vacated the stay of execution without writing an opinion as to why. Oken v. Sizer, 542 U.S. 916 (2004).

On June 17, 2004, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint in the District Court, arguing that the cut-down procedure that the defendants were likely to use during his execution would violate his rights under the Eighth Amendment Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause. He argued that they were likely to need to use a cut-down procedure because his long history of drug use would otherwise make it very difficult to obtain access to his veins during the lethal injection procedure. On the same day, the District Court (Judge Messitte) issued a final order of judgment denying the relief sought under the amended complaint, denying the motion to stay, and dismissing the case. The court reasoned that the plaintiff had not established that any of the execution procedures amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of his civil rights.

Oken appealed the District Court's dismissal of the case, and on the same day, the Fourth Circuit denied his motion for temporary injunction and affirmed the District Court's dismissal of the case. He filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, and on the same day, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition and declined to stay his execution.

Steven Oken was executed on June 17, 2004 by lethal injection.

Kristen Sagar - 09/05/2007


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief granted
Death Penalty
Lethal Injection - General
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Maryland Department of Correction
Plaintiff Description a death-sentenced inmate at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore, Maryland
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Mixed
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement None on record
Order Duration 2004 - 2004
Case Closing Year 2004
Case Ongoing No
Docket(s)
8:04-cv-01830-PJM (D. Md.) 06/17/2004
CJ-MD-0003-9000 PDF | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint 06/14/2004
CJ-MD-0003-0001 PDF | Detail
Memorandum of Law in Support of Complaint 06/14/2004
CJ-MD-0003-0002 PDF | Detail
Defendant's Memorandum in Support of Opposition to Request for Stay of Execution and Motion to Dismiss, or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment 06/14/2004
CJ-MD-0003-0003 PDF | Detail
Defendants' Opposition to Request for Stay of Execution, and Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment 06/14/2004
CJ-MD-0003-0004 PDF | Detail
Opinion 06/14/2004 (321 F.Supp.2d 658) (D. Md.)
CJ-MD-0003-0005 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Order 06/16/2004
CJ-MD-0003-0006 PDF | Detail
Order in Pending Case [Granting Application to Vacate the Stay of Execution] 06/16/2004 (542 U.S. 916)
CJ-MD-0003-0007 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Order Denying Certiorari 06/16/2004 (542 U.S. 917)
CJ-MD-0003-0008 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Amended Complaint 06/17/2004
CJ-MD-0003-0009 PDF | Detail
Final Order of Judgment 06/17/2004 (D. Md.)
CJ-MD-0003-0010 PDF | Detail
Request for Declaratory Judgment, Temporary Injunction and Citation of Correct Standard of Proof 06/17/2004
CJ-MD-0003-0011 PDF | Detail
Order [Denying Declaratory Judgment and Preliminary Injunction] 06/17/2004 (D. Md.)
CJ-MD-0003-0012 PDF | Detail
Order [Denying Injunction] 06/17/2004
CJ-MD-0003-0013 PDF | Detail
Judges Breyer, Stephen Gerald (First Circuit, SCOTUS)
CJ-MD-0003-0007
Ginsburg, Ruth Bader (D.C. Circuit, SCOTUS)
CJ-MD-0003-0007
Gregory, Roger L. (Fourth Circuit)
CJ-MD-0003-0013
Messitte, Peter Jo (D. Md.)
CJ-MD-0003-0005 | CJ-MD-0003-0010 | CJ-MD-0003-0012 | CJ-MD-0003-9000
Michael, M. Blane (Fourth Circuit)
CJ-MD-0003-0006 | CJ-MD-0003-0013
Stevens, John Paul (Seventh Circuit, SCOTUS)
CJ-MD-0003-0007
Traxler, William Byrd Jr. (Fourth Circuit, D.S.C.)
CJ-MD-0003-0006 | CJ-MD-0003-0013
Wilkinson, James Harvie III (Fourth Circuit)
CJ-MD-0003-0006
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Barron , David M (South Carolina)
CJ-MD-0003-0001 | CJ-MD-0003-0002 | CJ-MD-0003-0009 | CJ-MD-0003-0011 | CJ-MD-0003-9000
Bennett, Fred Warren (Maryland)
CJ-MD-0003-0001 | CJ-MD-0003-0002 | CJ-MD-0003-0009 | CJ-MD-0003-0011 | CJ-MD-0003-9000
Lawlor, Michael Edward (Maryland)
CJ-MD-0003-0001 | CJ-MD-0003-0002 | CJ-MD-0003-0009 | CJ-MD-0003-0011 | CJ-MD-0003-9000
Nickerson, Jerome Howard (Maryland)
CJ-MD-0003-0001 | CJ-MD-0003-0002 | CJ-MD-0003-0009 | CJ-MD-0003-0011 | CJ-MD-0003-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Bosse, Ann N (Maryland)
CJ-MD-0003-0003 | CJ-MD-0003-0004 | CJ-MD-0003-9000
Curran, John Joseph Jr. (Maryland)
CJ-MD-0003-0003 | CJ-MD-0003-0004
Kennedy, David P. (Maryland)
CJ-MD-0003-0003 | CJ-MD-0003-0004 | CJ-MD-0003-9000
Oakley, Scott S (Maryland)
CJ-MD-0003-0003 | CJ-MD-0003-0004 | CJ-MD-0003-9000
Other Lawyers None on record

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