Posted April 18, 2008 – Death row inmates cannot be spared on the grounds that the lethal cocktail they are administered is too painful, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in upholding Kentucky’s execution method.
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“Simply because an execution method may result in pain, either by accident or as an inescapable consequence of death, does not establish the sort of ‘objectively intolerable risk of harm’ that qualifies as cruel and unusual” under the Eighth Amendment, Chief Justice John G. Roberts said in his controlling opinion.
Thirty-five of the 36 death-penalty states use lethal injection as the execution method.
The ruling was not good news for opponents of the death penalty, or those opposed to injection, which involves a lethal cocktail of three separate chemicals – one that puts the inmate to sleep, another that paralyzes the body and a final one that stops the heart. Even worse for opponents is that the 7-2 ruling made it more difficult for future challenges.
Now only must opponents prove that lethal injection to the method by insisting that lawyers prove that it “creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain,” but must also prove there were “feasible” and “readily implemented” choices that would “significantly” reduce that risk, The Washington Post reports.
The test case involves Ralph Baze and Thomas C. Bowling, two death row inmates, both convicted of double murders, who argued that the Kentucky’s method should be found unconstitutional if it imposed an “unnecessary risk” of error in light of potential alternatives.
Several states have adopted protocols to ensure that an inmate is properly anesthetized, so that they do not feel pain. However, in her dissenting opinion, the Post reports, “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg listed several of these states and described the extra steps they have taken, to show that Kentucky could and should be required to do a better job. The states she named were Alabama, California, Florida, Indiana and Missouri. The other dissenter, Justice David H. Souter, signed her opinion.”
Do you think that the pain issue is a legitimate argument against the method? Click “Discuss Now,” to the upper right, and have your say.