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Kentucky Supreme Court upholds lethal injection protocol

[JURIST] The Kentucky Supreme Court [official website] ruled [PDF] Wednesday that the state's use of a three-drug lethal injection [DPIC backgrounder] does not violate the constitution because the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment "does not require a complete absence of pain." The unanimous decision upholds a lower court ruling last year which held that conflicting medical testimony prevents the court from concluding that death row inmates "categorically" feel pain during their executions. Justice Donald Wintersheimer added that the two inmates challenging Kentucky's death penalty [JURIST news archive] protocol, Ralph Baze and Thomas Bowling, would have to prove that the three-drug cocktail creates "a substantial risk of wanton and unnecessary infliction of pain, torture or lingering death."

Kentucky's lethal injection protocol, like several other states, requires a first drug to make the inmate unconscious, a second drug to paralyze the inmate, and a third drug to stop the inmate's heart. Several constitutional challenges [JURIST news archive] to the procedure have arisen across the country, arguing that the first drug fails to make the inmate fully unconscious, thereby making the inmate feel excruciating pain when the heart-stopping drug is injected. Inmates in Missouri and South Dakota have successfully challenged the lethal injections, while challenges in Florida and Texas [JURIST reports] have failed. Ohio recently executed its first inmate under a new lethal injection protocol [JURIST report] after a problematic execution last May prompted the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to review their methods. The New York Times has more. The Louisville Courier-Journal has local coverage.

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