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Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber

What Is The State's Responsibility?

In upholding the right of Louisiana to electrocute Willie Francis a second time, the Court relied on the belief that the first failure had not resulted from any wrongdoing by the state. The Court compared the failure of the electric chair to another traumatic occurrence, such as a fire in the cell block. Even if Willie Francis's life had been threatened by such a fire, the Court argued, the state would have the right to execute him. It would be irrelevant that no other prisoner would have had to endure the trauma of undergoing first a fire, then an electrocution.

The minority opinion on the Court disagreed. These dissenting justices claimed that the state had a special responsibility to execute Willie Francis properly, a responsibility far greater than their obligation to prevent a fire in his cell block. The dissenting judges argued that if the state could not execute Willie Francis humanely, in one try, they did not have the right to subject him to a second electrocution--regardless of the reason that the first execution had failed.

At the time the decision was written, both the majority and the minority believed that Willie Francis's electrocution had failed for technical, unavoidable reasons. What neither side knew was that in fact, human error was involved. The two men responsible for Francis's execution had been drunk at the time and had improperly connected the electrical cables. As a result of their negligence, the electric chair did not work properly, and Francis was subjected to considerable pain.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber - Petitioner's Claim, Decision, Significance, A Cruel And Unusual Punishment?, What Is The State's Responsibility?