Magazine article New York Times Upfront

The Death Penalty: Where It Stands Today: The Supreme Court Has Effectively Halted All Executions While It Considers a Case from Kentucky Challenging the Constitutionality of Lethal Injections

Magazine article New York Times Upfront

The Death Penalty: Where It Stands Today: The Supreme Court Has Effectively Halted All Executions While It Considers a Case from Kentucky Challenging the Constitutionality of Lethal Injections

Article excerpt

The 3,350 prisoners on death row in the United States will be paying attention this spring when the Supreme Court is expected to rule on Baze v. Rees.

That case challenges the constitutionality of lethal injection, the primary method of execution in al 137 states with the death penalty except Nebraska. Two death row inmates from Kentucky--Ralph Baze and Thomas Clyde Bowling Jr.--claim that the way lethal injections are now carried out violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruet and unusual, punishment.

In October, the court halted the execution of a Mississippi prisoner and effectively blocked all executions from going forward until, it rules in the Baze case.

Lethal injections are usually a combination of three chemicals that are intended to first anesthetize the condemned person, then paralyze the muscles, and finally stop the heart. Critics say the anesthetic is sometimes insufficient or incorrectly administered and the result can be an excruciatingly painful death.

This challenge comes two years after the Court decided in a case from Missouri, Roper v. Simmons, that the death penalty cannot be applied to juveniles. The Court ruled that Christopher Simmons--who was 17 when he and a friend robbed, bound, and gagged a woman, then pushed her into a river where she drowned--could not be held to the same standard of accountability as an adult.

The constitutionality of capital. punishment is not at stake in Baze, but if the Court bars the use of lethal injections, it would be another blow to the death penalty. …

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