Supreme Court Upholds Execution by Lethal Injection

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 supporting the execution procedures of lethal injection used by Kentucky authorities, writing that in its opinion, the procedures cause no “substantial risk of harm.”

The case in question, Baze v. Rees, was filed by death-row inmate Ralph Baze and fellow inmate Thomas Bowling.  The target of their lawsuit was Kentucky’s three-drug lethal injection procedure, and they claimed that the process ran the risk of causing the men an unnecessarily extreme level of pain that would reach the level of “cruel and unusual punishment.”  The center of their argument was the description of a hypothetical scenario in which the procedure was botched, and the prisoner would appear to be unconscious but would in reality be in agonizing pain.

In the plurality opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts indicated that state executions do not have to be completely pain-free, and that in order for the prisoner’s stay of execution to be granted, it must be proved that “the state’s lethal injection protocol creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain.”  The state had taken safeguards to protect against that hypothetical scenario, and without proof that the procedure would entail that result, Roberts and others upheld the method as constitutional.


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