The United States Supreme Court on Friday agreed to review Oklahoma’s lethal injection system. They are ruling on an appeal filed by three Oklahoma death row inmates who argue that the use of the drug midazolam in executions violates the constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Nine months ago, the botched execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma put the issue of lethal injections under a spotlight and even triggered a federal review of execution protocols.
Multiple states including Florida, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Ohio currently use midazolam for executions. It will be the first involving lethal injection executions that the court has heard since 2008. The attorneys representing the three inmates argue that the drug midazolam sedates the prisoner but does not prevent the inmate from experiencing extremely excruciating pain as they administer the drugs. The lawyers also argue that the first drug used in the injection is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a general anesthetic. The number of executions in the USA peaked at 98 in 1999, and then dropped to 35 by last year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Four prisoners have been executed so far this year. The death penalty remains in place for 36 states and six states account for nearly all the recent executions in the United States.
Oklahoma’s report on Lockett’s botched execution ruled that the inmate’s IV was not properly inserted and failed to absorb the drugs. The justices ruled in 2008 that using three drugs in succession to kill an inmate does not violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The first drug would render the inmate unconscious, a second would paralyze him and a third would stop the heart.
In the past year, the court have become less favorable of the death penalty for several reasons:
- In May, the justices blocked the execution of a Missouri murderer because his specific medical condition made it likely that he would suffer from a controversial lethal injection.
- Later that month, they ruled 5-4 that Florida must apply a margin of error to IQ tests, making it harder for states to execute those with borderline intellectual disabilities.
- In October, the court stopped the execution of yet another Missouri man over concerns that his lawyers were ineffective and had missed a deadline for an appeal. Last Monday, the justices sent his case back to Missouri for further consideration.
The director of the Death Penalty Information Center who opposed capital punishment released a statement. “This is very big,” “They may focus just on what Oklahoma is doing, but it will set a standard for every state. It’s going to put a stamp on what’s allowable and what’s not.”
For the last seven years, states continue to have trouble obtaining drugs that were allowed, as a result of the manufacturers refuse to sell them for the use of execution. The case will be argued in April and a possible decision in late June. The Oklahoma inmates are fighting to have their executions delayed until a ruling and other inmates around the nation are looking to do the same.