Sunday, July 27, 2014
Do botched executions violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment?
The State of Arizona botched the execution last Wednesday of Joseph Wood. People who witnessed his execution said he he gasped and snorted over 600 times for almost two hours before he was finally pronounced dead
Arizona used the same two drugs, midazolam and hyrdromorphone, following the same protocol that Ohio used to execute Dennis McGuire in January. Witnesses reported that he snorted, gasped, and struggled for about 25 minutes before he was pronounced dead.
Similar symptoms suggests that administering the two drugs according to the protocol will not not achieve the intended result, unless the intended result is to assure conscious awareness of suffering and dying in a paralyzed state.
Such a policy would constitute torture and violate the Eighth Amendment.
Midazolam is a sedative and hydromorphone is a painkiller. According to anesthesiologists,
the new cocktail of drugs could cause a condition called “air hunger,” in which the inmate would gasp for air but be unable to absorb oxygen.
The Death Penalty Information Center is reporting that Ohio switched to using the two drugs after state officials exhausted the state’s supply of pentobarbital and could not replenish it due to the manufacturer’s decision to ban the use of its product to kill people by conditioning sales to distributors on their agreement not to redistribute or sell the drug to states that use it to execute people.
And lest we forget,
In Oklahoma in April, convicted killer Clayton Lockett writhed in pain and a needle became dislodged during his lethal injection at a state prison. The execution was halted, but Lockett died about 30 minutes later of a heart attack
Before we can reach an evidence-based opinion regarding whether the two-drug cocktail violates the Eighth Amendment, we will have to wait until the autopsy results establishing Mr. Wood’s cause of death are published and reviewed by qualified medical experts.
In other news:
Despite a population that constitutes only 5% of the world population, our jails and prisons hold 25% of the people who are imprisoned in the world.
Finally, some good news. The Sentencing Project reported last week,
A new report by The Sentencing Project examines the potential for substantial prison population reductions. Fewer Prisoners, Less Crime: A Tale of Three States profiles the experiences of three states – New York, New Jersey, and California – that have reduced their prison populations by about 25% while seeing their crime rates generally decline at a faster pace than the national average.
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