Lethal Injection on Trial

State Legislatures, January 2008 | Go to article overview

Lethal Injection on Trial


Recent stays of execution in Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Nevada, Texas and Virginia come on the heels of the Sept. 25, 2007, decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear Baze v. Rees sometime early this year. In this case, two current Kentucky death row inmates argue that the three-chemical cocktail used in lethal injections inflicts unnecessary pain and suffering and thereby constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution.

Opponents argue that lethal injection does not contain enough anesthetic to relieve pain, prisoners are not properly anesthetized before receiving the injection and that this method of execution is routinely botched.

The case comes to the high court on appeal from the Kentucky Supreme Court, which ruled that lethal injection does not violate the constitution because the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment "does not require a complete absence of pain."

Currently there are approximately 3,350 inmates on death row. Thirty-six of the 37 death penalty states authorize lethal injections for executions. Almost all the states use the same three-drug combination: sodium pentothal, to render the inmate unconscious; pancuronium bromide, to paralyze all skeletal muscles; and potassium chloride, to stop the heart and cause death. …

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