Political News

Supreme Court Upholds Kentucky's Use of Lethal Injections

Posted April 16, 2008

Death Row, Death Penalty, Execution

— In a ruling that could affect the use of the death penalty in North Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Kentucky's use of lethal injection executions Wednesday.

The justices, by a 7-2 vote, turned back a constitutional challenge to the procedures in place in Kentucky, which uses three drugs to sedate, paralyze and kill inmates.

"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, and the failure to adopt untried and untested alternatives, constitute cruel and unusual punishment," Chief Justice John Roberts said in an opinion that garnered only three votes. Four other justices, however, agreed with the outcome.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented.

Executions have been on hold since September, when the court agreed to hear the Kentucky case. There was no immediate indication when they would resume.

The argument against the three-drug protocol is that if the initial anesthetic does not take hold, the other two drugs can cause excruciating pain. One of those drugs, a paralytic, would render the prisoner unable to express his discomfort.

A similar debate has gone on in North Carolina, where executions have been put on hold since the beginning of last year. The Council of State, a nine-member board that includes Gov. Mike Easley and other statewide elected officials, has been ordered by a judge to revisit the protocol for carrying out executions.

The role of physicians in North Carolina executions also has tied up the death penalty. State law requires a physician be present at every execution, but the North Carolina Medical Board has threatened to revoke the license of any doctor that participated in an execution, saying it violated the profession's ethics.

The state Attorney General's Office is reviewing the high court's ruling in the Kentucky case to determine its impact on North Carolina.

Elsewhere, the ruling had an immediate impact. Virginia lifted its moratorium on executions, and Oklahoma and Mississippi officials said they would start setting execution dates for convicted murderers.

North Carolina's last execution took place in August of 2006. The state Department of Correction has set execution dates for five more inmates since then, but four were delayed until issues surrounding the role of physicians could be resolved and a fifth was was put on hold for a mental evaluation.

The case before the U.S. Supreme Court came from Kentucky, where two death row inmates did not ask to be spared execution or death by injection. Instead, they wanted the court to order a switch to a single drug, a barbiturate, that causes no pain and can be given in a large enough dose to cause death.

At the very least, they said, the state should be required to impose tighter controls on the three-drug process to ensure that the anesthetic is given properly.

Kentucky has had only one execution by lethal injection and it did not present any obvious problems, both sides in the case agreed.

But executions elsewhere, in Florida and Ohio, took much longer than usual, with strong indications that the prisoners suffered severe pain in the process. Workers had trouble inserting the IV lines that are used to deliver the drugs.

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  • doodad Apr 16, 2008

    Most tend to object before the sentence is death, therefore the sentence is life.

    elcid, my thoughts concerning the death penalty is that I would have to be willing to forfiet my own life if I chose to maliciously take the life of another. If most of these condemned inmates valued their own lives, they would have been less likely to take the life of another.

  • elcid89 Apr 16, 2008

    "elcid, I would also have to take into consideration the parents of the victim."

    And if those parents objected, as many do?

  • doodad Apr 16, 2008

    elcid, I would also have to take into consideration the parents of the victim.

  • elcid89 Apr 16, 2008

    "elcid, if I had a child and they were arrested for say anything, I would not go and bail them out of jail. If they committed murder and received the death penalty sentence, then that is the result of their actions. If I had a child, I would teach them that they will have to accept the outcome of their decisions. It would be impossible for me to protect them forever."

    I suspect that it's easier to say that than it is to actually follow through with it / watch while your child is put to death, but I'll accept your answer in any case. The proof would be in the doing.

  • doodad Apr 16, 2008

    elcid, if I had a child and they were arrested for say anything, I would not go and bail them out of jail. If they committed murder and received the death penalty sentence, then that is the result of their actions. If I had a child, I would teach them that they will have to accept the outcome of their decisions. It would be impossible for me to protect them forever.

  • elcid89 Apr 16, 2008

    Same question I always ask in the regard:

    Would you, as a death penalty supporter, have any qualms to the execution of your child were they to be convicted?

    Don't bother with the "well, my child will never be convicted" garbage. They could be, and unless you're willing to put your money where your mouth is in that instance, so to speak, it's all just reactionary hypocrisy.

  • The Fox Apr 16, 2008

    amvaugna: I'm am very pro-death penalty but I do respect your opinion. Nothing angers me more than injustice or the inprisionment of an inocent. Hopefully our steadily improving forensic techniques including DNA, will limit the injustice we have presently witnessed with the release of a few innocent individuals. There are times I do wonder which is the worse punishment, life in prison or the death penalty?

  • clover1019 Apr 16, 2008

    good call ordinary citizen!

    we need to improve our legal system-this was made obvious in Eve's death. Sometimes I feel that its just as good to take the law into your own hands.

  • emtp2k Apr 16, 2008

    I think it's time we express lane some of these cases. If there is overwhelming physical evidence and witnesses then give them a year and at the end of the year put an end to it and let's move up the next prisoner.

  • OrdinaryCitizen Apr 16, 2008

    "If you do the research you will see that it cost more to prosecute a death penalty case than it does to keep a prisoner locked up for the duration of their natural life."

    ---- a swift sentence will take care of the price. The more executions the more it will deter the bad from the good. It will get worse before it gets better. The price to get of scum off the face of the Earth is worth every penny.

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