[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Sep 30 20:43:48 CDT 2007
Supreme Court deliberations delay US executions
While the US Supreme Court this week raised the prospect of a drop in
executions by agreeing to consider whether the lethal cocktails used to
kill most prisoners are constitutional or cruel, the future of pending
death sentences is unclear.
Amid controversy over how the injections are given -- they can cause an
agonizing death if done incorrectly -- the court said Tuesday it would
examine the cases of two men condemned to death in the southern state of
Anti-death penalty campaigners immediately demanded that all executions be
suspended pending the court decision, expected by next summer.
But the deliberations came too late for Michael Richard, 48. Within hours
of the Supreme Court's decision to consider the issue, it refused to stop
the state of Texas from giving him a lethal injection for raping and
killing a mother of seven in 1986.
Alison Nathan, a law professor at New York's Fordham University,
criticized the state's decision to go ahead. She wrote that continuing
executions while the court debates lethal injections "serves only an
unwarranted rush to execution."
"Executing a death row inmate while the Supreme Court is deliberating on
the appropriate standard by which to assess the constitutionality of a
method of execution ... offends basic notions of fairness and even-handed
justice," she wrote.
The Houston Chronicle agreed, writing in an editorial that "it is
inappropriate for Texas to proceed with executions until the court has
ruled." Although the Supreme Court allowed Texas to kill Richards, two
days later they granted a stay of a stay of execution to Carlton Turner,
28, condemned in Texas for killing his adoptive parents.
The court gave no explanation for its differing rulings. But Harvard
University law professor Carol Streiker said Turner's lawyers benefited
from having time to appeal to a Texas judge before approaching the Supreme
She suggested that the court may delay execution to a condemned person who
first contests the use of lethal injection in the state courts where they
In an execution, three drugs are administered to the condemned: one to
sedate him, one to paralyze him, and one to stop the heart.
However, there is no national protocol for administering the drugs and it
is not always done by a medical professional. Several studies and botched
executions have shown that death may be prolonged and painful.
In Florida in December, Angel Nieves Diaz, his eyes wide open, grimaced
and shook for more than 30 minutes before finally suffering convulsions
and dying. Authorities later found that the needles were inserted too far
and the lethal cocktail was injected outside his veins.
The court is now to consider whether the injections are "cruel and
unusual" punishment, as banned by the constitution.
So far this year, 40 of the 41 people executed in the United States have
been killed by lethal injection, with one choosing the electric chair.
Most of the executions have taken place in Texas.
If the Supreme Court fixes criteria that rule a method of execution
constitutional, as many expect, judicial killings could resume in earnest.
Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center, earlier
stressed that the court is unlikely to end capital punishment even if its
deliberations cause a temporary slow-down.
"I don't think the US Supreme Court is about to eliminate the death
penalty with this decision," he said. "I think they're going to say what
the standards are for lethal injection."
The high court has never ruled on a particular method of execution.
Instead, under legal challenge, states that used gas chambers, hanging or
electric chairs switched to lethal injection.
"Death row inmates about to be executed committed their crimes 15-20 years
ago. Where is the harm in postponing executions for a few months until the
court makes its ruling?" the Houston Chronicle editorial said.
"After executing more than 400 people since 1977, Texas can afford to
(source: Agence France-Presse)
Major upcoming cases
Major cases before the Supreme Court in the fall:
-- Guantanamo: Do the foreign nationals held at Guantanamo Bay have a
right to plead their innocence before a judge? (Boumediene v. Bush)
-- Voter ID: Can states require all voters to show photo identification at
their polling places ? (Crawford v. Marion County)
-- Lethal injection : Does an inmate facing execution have a right to be
protected against the "unnecessary risk of pain?" (Baze v. Rees)
-- Mexican prisoners: Can the president require states to reopen
death-penalty cases in order enforce an international treaty? (Medellin v.
-- Drug sentences: Can judges set lower prison terms for those convicted
of selling drugs, including crack cocaine? (Kimbrough v. U.S. and Gall v.
-- 401(k) plans : Can an employee sue to recover his money if his
retirement fund lost $150,000 after the plan administrator ignored his
request to move his money to a safer investment? (LaRue v. DeWolff)
-- Age bias: Does a fired manager who sues alleging age bias have a right
to tell the jury about others in the company who say they, too,
experienced age discrimination? (Sprint v. Mendelsohn)
-- Investor lawsuits: Can investors who lost money because of stock fraud
sue other companies that participated in a scheme to inflate earnings?
(Stoneridge v. Scientific-Atlanta)
-- Gun rights: Does the Second Amendment give individuals a right to own a
gun, despite a city's ban on handguns? (pending appeal in District of
Columbia v. Heller)
(source: Los Angeles Times)
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