Supreme Court Upholds Lethal Injection

The U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday upheld the most common form of execution by lethal injection. 30 states including California use the three-drug method. KPCC's Julie Small reports that the ruling didn't close the door on future legal challenges, especially in states like California where attorneys have been able to document problems with executions.

Julie Small: The state of Kentucky uses a three-drug method to execute inmates. The drug cocktail includes a paralytic agent that can mask a botched execution. Attorneys for a Kentucky inmate had argued for execution using a single barbiturate that exposed inmates to less risk of pain. But the high court could find no problem with Kentucky's execution method.

Ty Alper with the Death Penalty Clinic, a legal education program for defense lawyers, said the Supreme Court also ruled that challengers could find a state's lethal injection method unconstitutional if that state ignored other, less risky, methods of lethal injection. To Alper, that creates an opening in the law.

Ty Alper: Nothing about the decision will stop lawyers from being able to uncover the realities of how lethal injection is administered, and nothing will stop them from presenting to the court alternative methods of lethal injection that are much safer than the ones the states are currently using.

Small: In California, death row inmate Mike Morales challenged the state's lethal injection protocol. The judge in that case found enough problems with California's methods to stay executions. That was two years ago. Since then, California's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has built a new death chamber at San Quentin and revised the state's methods for administering lethal injection. U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel has yet to visit the facility, or to rule on whether the revised execution method is the best one to ensure inmates don't suffer excruciating deaths.

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