State v. Mata




Nebraska Supreme Court

Citation and Year

745 N.W.2d 229 (Neb. 2008)

Constitutional Provision or State Statute

Neb. Const. art. I, § 9

Nature of Case

This case challenged Nebraska’s use of death by electrocution.


Execution via the electric chair constitutes “cruel and unusual” punishment under Nebraska’s state antipunishment clause, and is therefore unconstitutional. The ruling created a de facto moratorium on executions until the legislature instated lethal injection as the state’s primary method of execution the following year.


The court set forth a three-part test to assess whether a method of execution is cruel and unusual within the meaning of art. 1 § 9 of the Nebraska Constitution: (1) Whether there is a substantial risk that the prisoner will suffer unnecessary and wanton pain; (2) Whether the punishment comports with the “evolving standards of decency”; and (3) Whether the punishment comports with the dignity of man.

In analyzing the first prong, the court noted that while it is sufficient to show a “substantial foreseeable risk, inherent in the method, that a prisoner will suffer unnecessary pain,” it found that “death and loss of consciousness is not instantaneous for many condemned inmates” and that “electrocution inflicts intense pain and agonizing suffering.”

For the second prong, the court explained that “the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment is not a static concept and ‘must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society’” — a standard that must be understood “in the light of contemporary human knowledge.” In determining that death by electrocution does not comport with contemporary standards of decency, the court notes that all other states have abandoned the practice due to the unnecessary pain and suffering it inflicts.

The court then explained that “the dignity of man” extends to the body after death. The court drew similarities between death by electrocution to death by “beheading” and “drawing and quartering.” The court notes that punishment must minimize the mutilation and distortion of the condemned, and noted Georgia precedent explaining the extreme physical damage caused to a person’s body when they die by electrocution.