Fairfax Criminal Defense Attorney Muhammad Elsayed discusses a recent Supreme Court decision upholding the use of a specific type of legal injection.
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the use of a drug mixture in lethal injections, rejecting the arguments of several death-row prisoners that the execution drugs used by Oklahoma caused unnecessary pain and thus violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The case had made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court following several high-profile botched execution attempts in which inmates choked and writhed in pain for up to nearly two hours before finally succumbing to the lethal injections.
Rejecting the Eighth Amendment argument, a divided U.S. Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision that the petitioning inmates failed to show a substantial risk of pain and suffering through the procedures used by the state when compared to a known and available alternative method of execution. In essence, the Court concluded that—because the imposition of the death penalty is constitutional under existing U.S. Supreme Court precedent—the petitioners must show that effective, less painful alternative methods of execution exist.
Justice Breyer wrote a strong dissenting opinion, arguing that the Court should have required the parties to argue whether the death penalty is constitutional altogether, suggesting that he believes that it violates the Eighth Amendment. In a separate dissenting opinion, Justice Sotomayor strongly criticized the majority opinion for essentially sanctioning torture.
This opinion is a disappointing and major setback for efforts to curtail the use of demonstrably painful methods of execution. The gory details of the botched executions garnered national attention and public condemnation of the execution methods—but the strong public reaction clearly was not enough to sway the U.S. Supreme Court.
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