University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Lightbourne v. Crist CJ-FL-0003
Docket / Court NA 06-2391 (Supreme Ct.) ( State Court )
State/Territory Florida
Case Type(s)
Case Summary
On December 14, 2006, a death-sentenced inmate in the Florida prison system filed a lawsuit under Fla. R. App. P. 9.100, which is the Florida All Writs statute, against the Florida Department of Corrections in the Supreme Court of Florida. The plaintiff alleged that his constitutional rights were ... read more >
On December 14, 2006, a death-sentenced inmate in the Florida prison system filed a lawsuit under Fla. R. App. P. 9.100, which is the Florida All Writs statute, against the Florida Department of Corrections in the Supreme Court of Florida. The plaintiff alleged that his constitutional rights were threatened by the imminent use of pancuronium bromide during the lethal injection process. He argued that the Florida procedures for lethal injection would subject him to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

On December 14, 2006, the Florida Supreme Court granted partial temporary relief, allowing the plaintiff to designate a representative to attend the autopsy of a recently executed inmate in order to observe the proceedings. The court then relinquished jurisdiction to the Circuit Court of the Fifth Judicial Circuit in Marin County, Florida for a determinate of the plaintiff's request for an independent autopsy of the executed inmate.The plaintiff appealed.

On November 1, 2007, the Supreme Court held that:
1) the time limitation imposed by the Supreme Court and the circuit court, and prisoner's alleged inability to present certain evidence, did not deprive the prisoner of a full and fair hearing,
2) the circuit court erred when it excluded two memoranda that had been prepared by an assistant general counsel for the Department of Corrections (DOC) from evidence; and
3) the lethal injection procedures currently in place in Florida, as actually administered, did not violate the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's order denying relief and Lightbourne's writs petition. 969 So.2d 326.
In 2016, the Supreme Court, in Hurst v. Florida, found Florida's death-penalty sentencing system was unconstitutional because it gave too much authority to judges, instead of juries.
In a subsequent ruling, the Court also required that juries must unanimously agree on critical findings before judges can impose death sentences and must unanimously recommend the death penalty.

Several death row inmates, including Lightbourne, argued that the new requirements should also apply to their cases. In Lightbourne’s original sentencing, no jury count was recorded. It was simply entered into court records that the majority decision was that he should receive the death penalty. Without a numerical count, it was not possible to know whether the decision was unanimous and a resentencing would be able to settle that.

However, the regulation is retroactive only for defendants who were sentenced to death after June 24, 2002. This date was determined based on another U.S. Supreme Court case, Ring v. Arizona, that established a defendant’s right to have a jury, not a judge, decide whether the death penalty is acceptable punishment.

Even though Lightbourne was sentenced before June 24, 2002, his defense attorneys argued that in a hearing held before the Florida Supreme Court about his sentence in October 2002, the court was technically operating under an unconstitutional guideline. The Supreme Court handed down an order based on those hearings in January 2003, according to court documents. Therefore, Lightbourne argued that it was fundamentally unfair that defendants similarly situated will get the benefit of Hurst where others wouldn’t. The state argued that Lightbourne’s case had been decided before the cutoff date and should therefore stand. The Supreme Court held the Hurst requirements should not retroactively apply to the inmates. 235 So.3d 285.

The case is now closed.

Kristen Sagar - 08/28/2007
Averyn Lee - 06/08/2019


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Death Penalty
Lethal Injection - General
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action State law
Defendant(s) Florida Department of Corrections
Plaintiff Description Prisoners who have constitutional challenges to lethal injection pending in different postures throughout Florida.
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief Litigation
Filing Year 2006
Case Closing Year 2018
Case Ongoing No
Docket(s)
06-2391 (State Supreme Court)
CJ-FL-0003-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/16/2007
General Documents
Emergency Petition to the Florida Supreme Court
CJ-FL-0003-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/14/2006
show all people docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Keffer, Suzanne Myers (Florida) show/hide docs
CJ-FL-0003-0001 | CJ-FL-0003-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Nunnelley, Kenneth S. (Florida) show/hide docs
CJ-FL-0003-9000
Snurkowski , Carolyn (Florida) show/hide docs
CJ-FL-0003-9000

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