Supreme Court to Review Lethal Injection

A 2005 article in Lancet (lancetarticle.pdf) raised serious questions about the humaneness of lethal injection as a form of execution. It suggested that condmned prisoners could be dying in agony while paralyzed — their anguish thus going unnoticed.

The Supreme Court has agreed to review the consitutionality of lethal injection. 

[The Supreme Court] will hear a challenge early next year from two inmates on death row in Kentucky — Ralph Baze and Thomas Clyde Bowling Jr. — who claim that lethal injection as practiced by the state amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

The last time the court considered a challenge to a method of execution was in 1879, when it upheld the use of a firing squad in Utah.

Lethal injections, devised as a humane alternative to electrocution and the gas chamber, have come under attack in recent years amid reports that the three-drug cocktail doesn’t always work as quickly as intended and that inmates are subjected to excruciating pain before they die.

The Supreme Court has previously made it easier for death row inmates to contest the lethal injections used across the country for executions.

But until Tuesday, the justices had passed up cases that posed the question of whether the mix of drugs and the way they are administered in three dozen states violate the Constitution. The court will hear arguments in the case on Jan. 7, said David Barron, the prisoners’ lawyer.

Let’s hope that executions pause during the Court’s deliberations. Hope, but don’t expect:

There have been 1,099 executions, 928 by lethal injection, since the Supreme Court halted executions in 1972 and allowed them to resume in 1976. The annual number of executions peaked at 98 in 1999 and fell to 53 last year. So far in 2007, 42 people have been executed.

No state other than Texas has put to death more than three people this year. Texas has executed 26 inmates by lethal injection.Undeterred by the Supreme Court review, Texas on Tuesday night executed 49-year-old Michael Richard, convicted of a 1986 shooting. The high court had rejected Richard’s request for a stay until it ruled on the Kentucky case. Another execution was scheduled in the state for Thursday.

Yee hah, Texas. Yeehah.


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