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Supreme Court weighs constitutionality of lethal injection

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments Monday in Baze v. Rees (07-5439) [docket; merit briefs] on whether the three-drug lethal injection cocktail [DPIC backgrounder] now used in over 30 states violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The petitioner, Ralph Baze, who was sentenced to death by lethal injection for admittedly killing two Kentucky police officers, argues in part that the Eighth Amendment is implicated in his case because lethal injections can be carried out with other drugs that may pose less risk of pain and suffering. He believes that the first drug fails to make the subject fully unconscious, thereby making the subject suffer excruciating pain when the heart-stopping drug is injected. During Monday's arguments, Justice Scalia indicated that he was in favor of allowing Baze's execution to proceed, saying that the Constitution did not require that the death penalty be "painless." Other justices, however, seemed in favor of blocking the method or allowing the lower courts to spend more time studying the specific lethal injection method.

Since the US Supreme Court accepted the Baze case in September, courts have stayed executions in Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida [JURIST reports]. AP has more.

2:59 PM ET - The transcript [PDF text] of Monday's oral arguments is now available.

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