Glass v. Louisiana

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Glass v. Louisiana
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Decided April 29, 1985
Full case name Jimmy L. Glass v. Louisiana
Citations 471 U.S. 1080 (more)
105 S. Ct. 2159; 85 L. Ed. 2d 514; 1985 U.S. LEXIS 1731
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan Jr. · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell Jr. · William Rehnquist
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Case opinions
Dissent Brennan, joined by Marshall

Glass v. Louisiana, 471 U.S. 1080 (1985), was a case denied for hearing by the United States Supreme Court in 1985. The case is famous for Justice Brennan's dissent from the denial of certiorari, joined by Justice Marshall, arguing that the death penalty is always unconstitutional.


Jimmy L. Glass was sentenced to death by the state of Louisiana. According to then Louisiana's law, the only authorized method of execution was the electric chair.

Glass and his lawyers argued that executions by electrocution violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, because causing to pass through the body of the person convicted a current of electricity of sufficient intensity to cause death, and the application and continuance of such current through the body of the person convicted until such person is dead and electrocution causes the gratuitous infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering and does not comport with evolving standards of human dignity.

Opinion of the Court[edit]

The court denied certiorari, thereby allowing the lower court's decision to stand.

Justice William J. Brennan (joined by Justice Thurgood Marshall) dissented from the denial of certiorari. In his dissent, Brennan reiterated his "belief that the 'physical and mental suffering' inherent in any method of execution is so 'uniquely degrading to human dignity' that, when combined with the arbitrariness by which capital punishment is imposed, the trend of enlightened opinion, and the availability of less severe penological alternatives, the death penalty is always unconstitutional."

Brennan's dissent is known for its gruesome depiction of electrocution:

"Th[e] evidence suggests that death by electric current is extremely violent and inflicts pain and indignities far beyond the 'mere extinguishment of life.' Witnesses routinely report that, when the switch is thrown, the condemned prisoner 'cringes,' 'leaps,' and 'fights the straps with amazing strength.' 'The hands turn red, then white, and the cords of the neck stand out like steel bands.' The prisoner's limbs, fingers, toes, and face are severely contorted. The force of the electric current is so powerful that the prisoner's eyeballs sometimes pop out and 'rest on [his] cheeks.' The prisoner often defecates, urinates, and vomits blood and drool. "[1]

Brennan also concluded that electrocution is ""nothing less than the contemporary technological equivalent of burning people at the stake."[2]

Subsequent developments[edit]

Glass was electrocuted on June 12, 1987. His accomplice, Jimmy Wingo, was executed four days later. Despite the failure of Glass v. Louisiana, electrocution has now been retired as a method of execution in most US states as of 2012, and none of the states retaining it use it as their primary execution method.

External links[edit]