Civil and Human Rights

Moore v. Texas

In Moore v. Texas, the Supreme Court was asked to decide, among other things, whether the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment is violated by the execution of an inmate after an extended period of incarceration, especially when much of that time has been spent in solitary confinement.

Case Summary

Bobby James Moore was sentenced to death in 1980 and has spent more than 35 years living on death row. He has spent nearly 15 of those years in administrative segregation, which means he is alone in his cell for more than 22 hours a day. In 2003, Moore filed a state court writ challenging his 2001 punishment retrial and death sentence. Moore raised numerous claims, including that execution after his prolonged confinement on death row would constitute cruel and unusual punishment, emphasizing the psychologically traumatic conditions that he has experienced in administrative segregation. The state habeas court granted Moore’s petition in part and denied it in part, but on appeal the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Moore’s petition in full. Moore appealed, filing a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court on December 15, 2015.

On January 19, 2016, Constitutional Accountability Center filed a friend-of-the-court brief which urged the Court to grant review and clarify that excessive periods of confinement prior to execution, especially when spent in solitary confinement, violate the Eighth Amendment. The Court has long recognized that the final clause of the Eighth Amendment not only prohibits barbaric punishments but also sentences that are disproportionate to the crime committed. Our brief argued that an inmate’s long-term placement in solitary confinement violates this proscription because, as numerous studies have shown, the psychological damage caused by long-term solitary confinement is so incredibly severe as to be excessive with respect to virtually all prisoners. In our brief we urged the Court to grant review to consider the important Eighth Amendment questions raised by extended confinement on death row.

On June 6, 2016, the Supreme Court granted Moore’s petition for certiorari limited to the petition’s first question, which asks whether prohibiting the use of current medical standards on intellectual disability and requiring the use of outdated standards when determining whether an individual should be executed is a violation of the Eighth Amendment. The Court declined to consider the second question (the one we urged the Court to consider), namely, whether excessive periods of confinement prior to execution, especially when spent in solitary confinement, violate the Eighth Amendment.

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