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Supreme Court upholds Kentucky lethal injection protocol
Supreme Court upholds Kentucky lethal injection protocol

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] ruled Wednesday that lethal injection [JURIST news archive] does not violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The ruling came in Baze v. Rees [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report], where lawyers for Kentucky death row inmate Ralph Baze argued that the three-drug lethal injection cocktail [DPIC backgrounder] used in most states violates the US Constitution because the first drug administered can fail to make the subject fully unconscious, thereby making the subject suffer excruciating pain when the heart-stopping drug is injected. The Supreme Court rejected Baze's arguments, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing:

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. The judgment below is affirmed.

The Supreme Court's grant of certiorari in the case led to an effective moratorium on the death penalty in the United States [JURIST report] as many federal courts, state courts, and state governors put executions on hold pending the high court's ruling.

Chief Justice Roberts announced the judgment, and his opinion [text] was joined by Justices Kennedy and Alito. Alito filed a separate concurring opinion [text]. Justice Stevens filed an opinion concurring in the judgment [text], as did Justice Scalia [opinion text], who was joined by Justice Thomas. Thomas wrote his own opinion concurring in the judgment [text] and was joined by Scalia. Justice Breyer also filed a separate opinion concurring in the judgment [text]. Finally, Justice Ginsburg dissented [text], and was joined by Justice Souter.


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