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States Consider Resumption of Death Penalty After Supreme Court Decision

April 18, 2008 10:19 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to the use of lethal injections in Kentucky. Most states had halted executions pending the outcome of the case.

30-Second Summary

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Ruling 7-2 against Kentucky inmates Ralph Baze and Thomas Bowling, the high court determined that the lethal injection used in Kentucky does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, as it does not have “substantial risk of serious harm.”

The Court acknowledged cases of painfully botched executions with the three-drug injection. But the majority feared that ruling in favor of Baze would open up the courts to complaints about capital-punishment sentencing.

Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the majority opinion, writing, "We ... agree that petitioners have not carried their burden of showing that the risk of pain from maladministration of a concededly humane lethal injection protocol … constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.”

Justices David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were the dissenters.

Kentucky uses a combination of three drugs in its lethal injection. Death-row inmates petitioned to change the injection to a single barbiturate. In the three-drug cocktail, if the initial anesthetic is not effective, then the other two drugs, which halt breathing and heartbeat, can leave the prisoner in intense pain.

The decision paves the way for other states to go through with planned executions by lethal injection. California Chief Assistant Attorney General Dane Gillette said that resumption of the death penalty by the end of the year “is entirely possible,” although there are still legal hurdles. Texas and Virginia are going forward with planned executions, and Nebraska is considering adopting the injection as its form of execution after the state’s Supreme Court banned use of the electric chair in February.

Headline Link: ‘Supreme Court Upholds Lethal Injection Protocol’

Video: ‘Sweet Melissa on Death Penalty Case at Supreme Court’

Background: Execution by lethal injection

Historical Context: Death penalty cases heard before the Supreme Court during the 20th century

Furman v. Georgia, 1972
Godfrey v. Georgia, 1980
Pulley v. Harris, 1984

Opinion and Analysis: Establishing standards; states mull return to death penalty

Establishing standards
States ponder if and when to resume executions

Reference: Baze v. Rees, the Supreme Court, the Bill of Rights, and capital punishment by state

Related Topic: ‘Public Defender Builds Injection Case’

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