Lethal Injection: The New Frontline Against the Death Penalty

Over the years many different strategies of challenging the constitutionality of the Death Penalty have made their way through the courts. The latest line of attack is focused on lethal injection. Last year, in April, 2008 the Supreme Court came down firmly on the side of upholding lethal injection. In Baze v. Rees the Supreme Court held that the current practice of administering a cocktail of three drugs was not cruel and unusual. The main concern in Baze was the use of sodium thiopental, the first drug administered, which anesthetizes the prisoner. The Supreme Court stated that the presence of executioners with a minimum level of professional experience in place IV lines and the presence of the prison warden provided adequate safeguards for the practice of lethal injection. However, like many issues decided by the Supreme Court, this is far from the end of the debate.

On September 15, 2009, prison officials on Ohio halted an execution after technicians tried for over two hours to find a suitable vein to maintain an IV. Ohio Governor Ted Strickland then postponed the execution of Rommel Broom and a federal judge issued a restraining order to keep Ohio from executing Mr. Broom. The Federal District Court for the Southern District of Ohio will hear Mr. Broom’s testimony about his botched execution, which his lawyers are describing as torture and cruel and unusual. Mr. Broom was stuck with a needle over 18 times. He even tried to help the execution team by pointing out veins, and massaging his arms to try and keep a vein open. At one point the needle may have struck bone.

At the same time there are growing objections in the medical community to lethal injection. The American Medical Association, American Nurses Association and American Society of Anesthesiologists all oppose their members from participate in executions. Making it all the more likely that people with less and less medical training will take part in lethal injection executions. Ohio uses emergency medical technicians in their executions.

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Published in: on October 7, 2009 at 10:55 pm Comments Off on Lethal Injection: The New Frontline Against the Death Penalty

Maybe Cruel, Definitely Unusual

After a one day trial, 13-year-old Joe Sullivan was convicted of burglary and rape, and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.  He and his friends had burglarized the house of an elderly woman, and she was raped, though it is unclear whether Sullivan was the rapist.  Now 33, Sullivan is asking the Supreme Court to consider whether such a sentence imposed on minor violates the Eighth Amendment.

Sullivan is not arguing innocence, though his representation at trial and guilt of the rape charge were both questionable.  Rather, Sullivan and his lawyers are arguing that sentencing a child barely in his teens to life, without the possibility of parole, is cruel and unusual.  Sullivan would merely like the right to argue his case to a parole board.

Should the Supreme Court take certiorari on the case, it will be interesting to see how the decisions in Roper v. Simmons (2005) and Kennedy v. Louisiana (2008) will frame the question.  The decision in Roper struck down the death penalty for 16- and 17-year-olds, and Kennedy barred the use of the death penalty for adults in crimes that do not involve killing.  While a life sentence is certainly distinguishable from the death penalty, the court may decide to broaden its recent inquiries into punishment, using its decisions narrowing the application of capital punishment as a frame.

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Published in: on February 3, 2009 at 11:53 pm Comments Off on Maybe Cruel, Definitely Unusual

DOJ: Bureaucracy Goes from Bad to Lethal

Few of us spend our days in law school contemplating those whom justice has evaded or ignored, preferring out of necessity to keep our heads low and survive this tiny journey, looking forward to the day when we can take out our shiny new degrees and battle the best of them for positive and systemic social change. Fewer of us still have an opportunity to hold the hand of a man who has spent time on death row, share a drink with him, or stand outside and contemplate whether the placement of the moon in the night sky will affect this last day of hunting season. It still gives me pause when I think of last weekend, and how many of us did just that.

If you have ever heard Kirk Noble Bloodsworth speak, you understand what it means when I say that he is a hero of sorts to those of us who attended the death penalty symposium co-hosted by the Black Law Students Association and Students for the Innocence Project last Saturday.

Kirk spent 9 years in prison, including 2 on death row, for a crime he did not commit. When his death sentence was read aloud, the courtroom erupted in applause. Though his conviction was later overturned due to Brady violations, a jury found Kirk guilty a second time, sentencing him to two consecutive life terms.

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Published in: on February 3, 2008 at 10:06 am Comments Off on DOJ: Bureaucracy Goes from Bad to Lethal

New Jersey Abolished the Death Penalty

Special Guest Column

New Jersey abolished the death penalty this week – an historic moment to be sure, but also just one step in a long nationwide move away from capital punishment.

It was two years ago that the New Jersey state legislature put a moratorium on executions and appointed a commission to study the death penalty and make an official recommendation. In January of this year, the study recommended that capital punishment be abolished. The legislature just followed suit, and Governor Jon Corzine has already pledged to sign the bill.

New Jersey hasn’t actually executed anyone since 1963 – but this move is hardly symbolic. And in all that time with no executions, the state has spent about a quarter billion dollars on its death penalty, a fact that reveals a counterintuitive truth: the death penalty is far more expensive than life without parole. In its report, New Jersey Study Commission recommended that the money saved from scrapping capital punishment be redirected to services that support the families of murder victims.

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Published in: on December 14, 2007 at 7:19 pm Comments Off on New Jersey Abolished the Death Penalty