Today the Supreme Court heard arguments from Donald Verrilli, the lawyer of Ralph Baze, a death-row inmate who killed a sheriff and deputy sheriff. Verrilli claimed that there is a severe risk of pain and agony if the anesthetic is not properly administered, but Roy Englert, the attorney representing the Commonwealth of Kentucky, claimed that “Kentucky has excellent safeguards in place” and is using a doctor who is skilled at administering drugs through needles.
At the heart of the Baze v. Rees (John D. Rees is the Kentucky Corrections Commissioner) is how judges should evaluate arguments that the current combination of drugs used to carry out the execution (sodium thiopental causes unconsciousness and stops breathing, pancuronium bromide causes paralysis, and potassium chloride stops the heart) causes enough pain to be considered “cruel and unusual punishment,” which would violate of the Eighth Amendment. What is NOT being heard here is the constitutionality of the death penalty.
Verrilli wants the state to use sodium pentobarbital, a single drug which would cause unconsciousness and cardiac arrest. There are three arguments against the use of the single drug (the latter two were discussed in a press conference after the Court heard the arguments):
The drug proposed is the same drug used to put down animals, so many states are reluctant to change to a system that would put down humans “the same as animals.”
When administered, the drug can cause “involuntary thrashing” and this would degrade the “dignity” of the execution procedure.
The drug has not yet been tested to show that it is indeed pain free in humans.
Another issue here is the fact that in the past, states have been reluctant to release execution information since it might compromise prison security and/or the safety of prison personnel.
Justice Antonin Scalia brought up an interesting point asking where it says that the state must use “the least painful method. Is that somewhere in the Constitution?” During the case, Scalia said, “This is an execution — not surgery.”
Justice John Stevens saw the case as bringing up a recurring issue and that “We’ll be right back here in a year or 18 months.”
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy brought up (in my opinion) the most valid point when they asked Verrilli to assume for a moment that the current system was administered correctly (painlessly) in every execution. Justice Kennedy tehn asked, “Would you have a case here?”
Verrilli responded by saying that, “There can be no guarantee they will be properly administered.” So that’s a big no to the Justices’ question.
I say that there needs to be more research done here – on BOTH methods. If one method is better than the other – then use that. But are people going to say that thrashing around is cruel and unusual? If the Supreme Court isn’t careful, this could be the Griswold v. Connecticut of the death penalty that leads to its abolishment (Griswold v. Connecticut was the Supreme Court case that was taken out of context and used as a precedent to reach the Roe v. Wade verdict that legalized abortion).
Tags: Abortion, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Baze v. Rees, Corrections Commissioner, Court, Court Case, Criminal, Cruel and Unusual Punishment, Death, Death penalty, Donal Verrilli, Eighth Amendment, Griswold v. Connecticut, John Rees, John Roberts, John Stevens, Kentucky, Murderer, Politics, Ralph Baze, Roe v. Wade, Roy Englert, Sheriff, Supreme Court