Friday, September 28, 2007

Justices to Enter the Debate Over Lethal Injection


WASHINGTON, Sept. 25 — The Supreme Court on Tuesday stepped into the debate over whether the most commonly used drug “cocktail” used to execute prisoners on death row is so likely to produce needless pain and suffering as to be unconstitutional.

The justices agreed to hear an appeal by two men on Kentucky’s death row who argue that the combination of three drugs amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

The case, which comes at a time when challenges to lethal injections have effectively stopped executions in a growing number of states, will be argued in January or February and decided by early next summer. While it is pending, judges around the country are certain to be asked to bar executions in those states that are not already under an official or de facto moratorium.
In 2004, while the Supreme Court was considering an ultimately successful challenge to the execution of juvenile killers, judges blocked all such executions.

Of the 38 states with the death penalty, 37 use lethal injection — all except Nebraska, which still uses the electric chair. Lethal injection was adopted in the 1980s as a more palatable alternative to electrocution, but it has proven increasingly troublesome. Leading medical organizations have told their members not to participate, and lawyers for death-row inmates have produced evidence showing that in the absence of expert medical attention, there is a substantial risk of error in administering the combination of anesthesia and paralyzing drugs necessary to bring about a quick and painless death.

Litigation over the issue has brought executions to a halt in nine states: California, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee, according to lawyers at the Death Penalty Clinic at the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California.

The issue in the case, Baze v. Rees, No. 07-5439, is not whether lethal injection, in the abstract, is constitutional or unconstitutional; the question is more specific and less conclusive than that. It is, rather, the standard by which courts are to evaluate the evidence that lethal injection, predictably and with some regularity, goes wrong: that a paralyzing drug can leave an inadequately anesthetized inmate with the ability to feel severe pain as another drug stops the heart, but without the ability to move or call for help.

There have been other problems with lethal injection as well. Four months ago, an execution in Ohio was delayed 90 minutes as medical workers struggled to find a vein in the prisoner’s arm into which they could insert the shunts to carry the intravenous lines.

Under the Supreme Court’s precedents on prison conditions, inadequate medical care is not deemed to violate the Eighth Amendment unless it is the product of “deliberate indifference.” Under the court’s death penalty precedents, a method of execution must not be “contrary to evolving standards of decency” and may not inflict “unnecessary pain.”

In rejecting the challenge to lethal injection last year, the Kentucky Supreme Court found that the method did not present a “substantial” risk of pain and suffering, and so met these constitutional standards. “The prohibition is against cruel punishment and does not require a complete absence of pain,” the state court said.

In their appeal, the two inmates, Ralph Baze and Thomas C. Bowling, represented by the Kentucky Public Advocate’s office, said the Kentucky court failed to consider that the risk of pain was “unnecessary,” in that alternative methods of lethal injection could eliminate the chance that inmates would remain conscious but paralyzed. They urge the justices to incorporate “unnecessary risk” into the standard for evaluating lethal injection.

The three chemicals used for lethal injections are sodium thiopental, which renders a person unconscious; followed by Pavulon, which paralyzes the muscles, including those that control breathing; followed by potassium chloride, which causes cardiac arrest. Lawyers have argued that the second drug could be eliminated and that a less painful drug could be substituted for the third.

The Kentucky attorney general’s office, in urging the justices to turn down the appeal, argued that the fact that the three chemicals were so widely used demonstrated that the protocol was acceptable. “Condemned inmates will never run out of ideas for changes to the procedures, drugs or equipment used during lethal injection,” the state said, warning that the Supreme Court would go “down an endless road of litigation” if it accepted the case.

The two inmates were convicted of separate, unrelated crimes: Mr. Baze for killing a sheriff and deputy sheriff who were trying to serve him with a warrant, and Mr. Bowling for killing a couple whose car he had damaged in a parking lot.

In two earlier cases on lethal injection, the Supreme Court removed procedural obstacles to bringing such cases but did not deal directly with the constitutionality of the method. But those two rulings led to an explosion of litigation.

The only time the court ever ruled directly on a method of execution was in 1878, when it upheld the use of the firing squad. In 1999, the justices agreed to hear a challenge to Florida’s use of the electric chair, but the state substituted lethal injection for electrocution before the case could be decided.

In 1972, the court struck down all existing death penalty statutes, but in 1976 allowed executions to resume under newly written laws that gave jurors more precise guidance in an effort to make death sentences less arbitrary. There have been 1,097 executions since then, with Texas accounting for 403. There have been 40 executions this year, 24 of them in Texas.

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Octavia Ramos said...

First off I would like to say is that using Lethal injection and the electric chair is wrong and i am against it. The reason behind my opinoin is who are we as a people to want to kill somebody in such a gruesome,which is why we jailed that person in the first place whether it was a murder or a different situation what I am trying to get across is who are we to kill another human being dont they have a right over there livews even though iunderstand they took someone's ele's life unrightfully but if you think of it in this way wouldn't we be doing the same thing that that person was executed for so aren't we killers also. Instead of killing this person why not let them rot in jail because think by killing them were letting them off to easily I would want to know everyday of there lives why they are in the predicament they are in today which is life in prison. Wouldnt that be the Unlethal way to die jamaal?

W Brown said...


kemi ajirotutu said...

I agree with Octavia using injection and the chair is bad I just think that letting them live with no freedom is better I'm sorry I feel that they have no chose but to suffer. Because killing people is wrong. Were not god so we can't take peoples life for what ever risen.

Anonymous said...

i agree with what keni said its better to let them suffer and live then just kill them because killing is octavia said they should just let them rot in jail becausing if you kill someone that is just letting them off easy..

kristal atchison

Anonymous said...

I am against the death penalty because who ever that does the injection in my opinon is considered a murderer because even though that person had done something wrong obviously something is worng with that person they need help if they did such a crime of killing someone and it doesnt make things better by killing that person. I agree with octavia 100% she took the words out my mouth. I wouldnt want to be the person to kill another human being for doing such a crime because yes that person has feeligns and heart with a family they shouldnt be killed or tourchured thats just not right.

Anonymous said...

sorry i forgot my name ..Leah.M

john said...

I personally do not support the death penalty. There have been times when someone on death row has had their conviction overturned, wait not times, many many times. If a person were to be executed and then new evidence was found to exonerate him then what? Ressurect him and say sorry? Not likely.
But if you are going to kill someone as a punishment, it would be a good idea to make sure they aren't feeling any pain in the process.
When it comes to the death penalty we are in good company, China for one still uses it. They use it a lot. Out of all the countries in the world we are the only democratic one that still uses the death penalty, all the others are communist and or totalitarian states. Do you see a problem with that? I sure do.

tobin v. said...

I agree with Octavia and everyone else here. The death penalty is wrong and cruel no matter what situation electric chair or lethal injection. I believe that only God has the right to take your life and can decide when it is your time to go. Yes I know that at times or maybe in most cases these people on death row seem deserving of the death penalty because they have committed homicide and done pain upon their victim and their victim’s family. But how is taking someone’s life righteous in any matter –as the saying goes “two wrongs don’t make a right”. I believe a person having to suffer in jail for the rest of their life is sufficient punishment. They deserve to feel the guilt of their actions and live with it everyday knowing they’ve done wrong. I think also the terrible conditions they must suffer with in jail is good punishment like Octavia said they should rot in jail.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Octavia, I think the death penalty is wrong. the thought of your head sizzling or poisins injected into your body in order for your heart to stop is gruesome. I believe its a better punishment to let somebody rot in jail.
J blount

Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone who has posted on the blog so far. Octavia said, "...who are we to kill another human being...". She was absolutely right. We don't have the power to decide who lives and who dies, no matter the circumstances of their crime. I understand that it becomes expensive to harbor criminals in jail cells, and I have heard that this is one reason for the death penitly. When you use lethal injection and the electric chair, youre no longer punishing a criminal, but your punishing their family. A dead person feels no pain, but the people they left behind can feel an excrutiating amount, especially from losing a loved one. It would be more of a punishment to drive yourself insane in a prision.

- Alyssa Cumberbatch

Anonymous said...

J Dilan

I don’t agree so much with octavia because I don’t think that the lethal injection and the electric chair is wrong. I think that it depends on the case or situation. I mean if a person goes on a killing spree with no recorded mental problems and just looking to get even with the world I think that they should give him or her the death penalty. Then there are those cases were a person that has records of mental problems and the kill a person I think that it should be treated differently. I’m not saying that we should let him of the hook but the case has to be treated differently.

Anonymous said...

I do belive the lethal injection should be elimintated because it is not a harsh enough punishment for taking a life. I find it amazing that people r fighting for the rights of murderers and not worried about more important issues. Killing somone is not only taking there life but also taking there rights and i belive and inmate on death row should have no rights.

Anonymous said...

i forgot to put my name the no harsh enough comment was mine

Matthew morrison.

Anonymous said...

I personally do not agree with the Lethal injection or the electric chair. How can someone kill people like that? That is just shameful. Yes, I know prisoners need punishments but being in jail is enough punishments. They don't have the freedom as us Americans do. Besides Lethal injection is against the eighth amendment and knowing that how can people go against that? Punishing prisoners for the crimes they did is one thing but killing them with a lethal injection is another. I also agree with what Octavia said, why not let them rot in jail and by killing them with lethal injection, we are letting them go so easily.

-Anta R.

Anonymous said...

the death penalty isnt a goood thing but then again it isnt a bad thing depending on the cases.. For murders n other criminals who've done crimes to warrant such a penalty isnt dieing an not serving there life sentence a little easier.


Alex P said...

i basically agree with all of the above. Lets say someone kills another. They probably already have the thought in their mind that they will be caught and punished. In the mind of a criminal, dont you think the thought of this would drive him or her to kill again? seeing as though they already know they will be executed. What holds them back from taking another life? Let the prisons drive them insane and think about the crimes they've comitted.

manpreet kaur said...

I agree with octavia that the lethal injection and use of the electric chair is wrong. Anta wrote that "lethal injections are against the eighth amendment", I agree with her this opinion. Since the government goes against its own laws that they make. Making someone die by the electric chair and by lethal injection is against God's rights. This is the same case like the Roman Catholic Church vs. Astromers, because the going against God was not right for the astromers, and:; now the government is doing the same thing. It seems to me like history is repeating itself.

W Brown said...

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