Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Lethal Injection Deemed Constitutional

WASHINGTON--The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a challenge to the lethal three-drug cocktail used in most U.S. executions during the past 30 years.

By a 7-2 vote, the high court rejected a challenge by two Kentucky death row inmates who argued the current lethal injection method violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment by inflicting needless pain and suffering.

"We too 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 wrote in the court's main opinion.

Death penalty opponents argued the condemned prisoner can suffer excruciating pain, without being able to cry out, if given too small a dose of the anesthetic.

States began using the three-drug lethal injection method in 1978 as an alternative to the historic methods of execution -- electrocution, the gas chamber, hanging and shooting.
But in recent years there have been botched lethal injection executions in Florida and California, in which inmates took up to 30 minutes to die.

Executions in the United States last year fell to a 13-year low of 42, and have been temporarily halted since the court agreed in late September to decide the case. The ruling clears the way for executions to resume.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented.

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