Supreme Court Rejects Lethal Injection as “Cruel and Unusual”

One of the cases where lethal injection took more time than is expected to bring death occurred in the State of California with the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams 2005 (The other botched execution occurred in Florida in 2006). It was the stories of these “snags” in delivering the lethal injections to end the lives of these human beings that brought on the questioning of the use of lethal injection as a means of execution.

Williams had no final words as he was prepared for the lethal injection, reports CBS News correspondent John Blackstone. But then witnesses say the execution ran into a snag that seemed to frustrate even the man who was scheduled to die.Officials at San Quentin State Prison seemed to have trouble injecting the lethal mixture into Williams’ muscular arm, apparently struggling to find a vein.

“It took them, it may have been 10 minutes to deal with that. Williams at one point grimaced, it looked almost at frustration at the difficulty there,” media witness John Simerman of the Contra Costa Times told CBS Radio News.

“You doing that right?” it sounded as if he asked one of the men with a needle.

From the time Williams walked into the execution chamber until he was declared dead was more than 36 minutes.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the most common method of lethal injection executions, likely clearing the way to resume executions that have been on hold for nearly 7 months.

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. Similar methods are used by roughly three dozen states.

“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.


According to the AP report, the ruling by Judge Roberts does leave the door open for further lawsuits and the issue is not completely put to rest by the court’s decision. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter were the two Justices that ruled in favor of declaring lethal injection “cruel and unusual”. As someone who strongly disagrees with the use of the death penalty as punishment, I’m glad to hear that the court will still be able to hear about it’s constitutionality and further question the use of lethal injection as a means to execute.

Justice John Paul Stevens, while agreeing with the outcome, said the court’s decision would not end the debate over lethal injection. “I am now convinced that this case will generate debate not only about the constitutionality of the three-drug protocol, and specifically about the justification for the use of the paralytic agent, pancuronium bromide, but also about the justification for the death penalty itself,” Stevens said.