Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

(Joe Ravi, CC-BY-SA 3.0) 
This past Friday, the Supreme Court announced its decision to review a case on new lethal injection drug protocol used in death penalty executions.

The new procedure, only months old in practice, is similar to the old approach for lethal injection, but contains more of the "sedative midazolam" in the three part procedure of sedating, paralyzing, and stopping the heart. The Justices are looking to see whether this new procedure is considered "cruel and unusual punishment" (which is banned by the Constitution) since some previous injections have had claims of hurting or creating discomfort while being administered. Additionally, according to this article, Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted testimony "indicating that the application of the paralytic drug might render midazolam ineffective but it would be impossible to know whether the inmate was conscious."

The last time the court examined a case on lethal injection was 7 years ago in the 2008 Baze v. Rees case, where they rejected a challenge to lethal injections, deeming "pain, either by accident or as an inescapable consequence of death, does not [qualify] as cruel and unusual." While the majority of Justices (5) did not want to review another case on the Constitutionality of lethal injections, the four liberal members voted to accept the case. As we've learned in class, it only takes four of the court's nine judges to review a case, and thus will hear the case Glossip v. Gross in April and announce their decision this June.

Upon further research, I discovered that the main reason for this new sedative in the past few years was because the old substances used are simply harder to obtain now, since many European suppliers have stopped allowing American purchase of it for moral reasons. The US then scrambled to find new drugs in time. I also found out that this new dosage has been used in Florida in 11 executions since 2013, as well as in three other states. Out of the four states, 3 reported having problems with the drug and errors in administering it, which makes me believe that these drug may be an imperfect quick replacement to earlier drugs. Regardless of whether you morally believe in the death penalty or not, I think most can agree that this is a very serious situation that must be regarded more carefully.


1. Do you think this new drug is worthy of (re)evaluation in the Supreme Court?

2. While the majority of the Justices are against reviewing this case, the four that are seem to stand quite strongly with it. Do you have any predictions on the verdict?

3. What's your personal take on the Constitutionality of the new drug?

1 comment:

ElizabethZhou7 said...

I think the Supreme Court should review this new drug as it could be deemed as "cruel and unusual punishment" and the fact that several states have found problems with administering it is all the more reason to thoroughly investigate it. While I do somewhat agree with the resolution of the Baze v. Rees case in that pain is inevitable when dying, I still believe that death penalty executions should be carried out with as little pain as possible, as I do not think it's morally right to put people in pain (as in more pain than necessary) despite the crimes they may have committed. I think the best thing to do would be to somehow create a drug similar to the old one that was used before since this new drug seems premature, and can be improved to be more effective and "safe".

As for the verdict of this case, I believe it could go either way as both sides seem to stand quite firmly with their stances. However, I think the four members that want to review the case may be able to persuade the others in favoring the idea that this new drug is considered "cruel and unusual punishment" and is therefore unconstitutional. I find that this drug is most likely to be deemed unconstitutional as it has been causing more problems than previous drugs, and the fact that the United States rushed to find a quick replacement makes me even more uneasy about the nature of this drug.