Supreme Court to review lethal injections used in Oklahoma executions (+video)

24 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Justices to Hear Case Over Drugs Used in Executions.

On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to consider whether the three-drug protocol Oklahoma uses in executions violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Supreme Court has agreed to review Oklahoma’s system for execution — the first time it’s taken up such a case since rejecting a challenge to lethal injections in 2008.

The justices agreed Friday to review whether the sedative midazolam can be used in executions because of concerns that it does not produce a deep, comalike unconsciousness and ensure that a prisoner does not experience intense and needless pain when other drugs are injected to kill him. At issue in the case is whether the first drug injected into the condemned prisoner’s body, midazolam, is capable of rendering the inmate reliably unconscious before the following two drugs are administered. After a spate of controversial executions over the last year, the court said it will hear a case brought by three death-row inmates who contend the three-drug combination Oklahoma uses is unconstitutional. “They may focus just on what Oklahoma is doing, but it will set a standard for every state. With the addition of this case, the court’s term seems likely to end with three major decisions — on same-sex marriage, on the fate of the Affordable Care Act and, now, on the administration of capital punishment. It’s going to put a stamp on what’s allowable and what’s not.” The Oklahoma inmates’ lawyer said in a statement that execution protocols have changed so much since the sweeping 2008 ruling that the high court needs to weigh in. “The time is right for the Court to take a careful look at this important issue, particularly given the bungled executions that have occurred since states started using these novel and experimental drugs protocols,” attorney Dale Baich said.

The inmates challenging the state’s procedure argue that the sedative used, midazolam, cannot achieve the level of unconsciousness required for surgery and is therefore unsuitable for executions. In Warner’s case, Justice Sonia Sotomayor worried that it had not been proven that the state’s new procedure was valid, following a botched effort in the execution last year of Clayton Lockett. “Petitioners have committed horrific crimes, and should be punished,” Sotomayor wrote. “But the Eighth Amendment guarantees that no one should be subjected to an execution that causes searing, unnecessary pain before death. Nine months ago, the botched execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma put the issue of lethal injections under a spotlight and even triggered a federal review of execution protocols.

I hope that our failure to act today does not portend our unwillingness to consider these questions.” She was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. In April 2014, for example, Oklahoma death row inmate Clayton Lockett awoke in the middle of the execution process and writhed in pain as officials scrambled to discover what had gone wrong. In the 2008 challenge, opponents claimed if a state failed to properly inject the first of the three drugs then commonly in use, an inmate was left awake but paralyzed, in intense pain but unable to cry out. Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University. “The court’s decision to address the confusion at last is welcome.” The case the court agreed on Friday to hear, Glossip v.

Since 2008, states have had trouble obtaining some of the drugs that were given the green light — largely because manufacturers refuse to sell them for the purpose of execution. Midazolam featured in two other problematic executions that took longer than expected and left the convicts gasping: Joseph Wood in Arizona and Dennis McGuire in Ohio.

Challengers say midazlolam can’t maintain “a deep, coma-like unconsciousness” and has no pain-relieving properties, setting the stage for an excruciating death caused by the other two drugs — a paralytic and a heart-stopper. The inmates are trying to stop their executions, arguing that the state would essentially be experimenting on them by injecting them with unproven and untested drugs. At that time, every state was using the same three-drug combination, which the lawyers in Baze conceded was humane if administered properly,” he said. “Today, states are not using that 3-drug protocol and instead are using experimental drug combinations.

The first, she said, was whether the inmates should be required to specify an alternative method of execution, as courts have demanded in Oklahoma and elsewhere, before challenging the method to be used by the state. “It would be odd if the constitutionality of being burned alive, for example, turned on a challenger’s ability to point to an available guillotine,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. Medical experts testifying on behalf of the inmates at an evidentiary hearing said the effects of high doses of midazolam, which Oklahoma adopted, were too unpredictable to justify its use. Those states have switched to midazolam because companies making the traditional barbiturates, which have a longer track record and deeper anesthetic properties, have refused to provide them for executions.

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