United States Supreme Court To Decide If Death by Lethal Injection is Unconstitutional
Michigan does not have the death penalty in any form – however, the Supreme Court’s decision of whether death by lethal injection is unconstitutional could serve to invalidate the death penalty nationwide.
On May 18, 1846, Michigan became the first English speaking government in the world to abolish the death penalty. The death penalty still exists in many states and the federal government. In early May, 2015, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Glossip v Gross in which it was asked to determine if the use of misazolam (an opiate) as the first drug in the lethal injection process violated the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. In prior decisions the USSC decided that the execution procedure only violated the Constitution if it presented an “objectively intolerable risk of harm that prevents prison officials from pleading that they were subjectively blameless for purposes of the Eighth Amendment.”
When the USSC found death by lethal injection was constitutional unless there was a “objectively intolerable risk of harm”, a different series of drugs was used. The first drug used then was sodium thiopental which is a barbiturate that causes a deep general anesthesia where patients feel no pain. This allowed for the administration of the other drugs with no pain and suffering on the prisoner’s part. The drug at issue before the court, misazolam is simply a sedative. When the second drug is administered the patient is paralyzed but still conscious and then respiration stops and the third drug potassium chloride stops the heart. As the potassium chloride enters the blood stream it causes intense burning pain. The patient cannot react because of the paralysis but can feel it because they are still conscious.
Why can’t states get sodium thiopental any more? Because countries that object to the death penalty are refusing to sell it.
The constitutional question is does the use of misazolam cause the death by lethal injection process to be cruel and unusual and therefore a violation of the 8th amendment.
This decision should be announced before the end of June, 2015. It could serve to invalidate the death penalty nationwide. Stay tuned!
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