The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

Cruel and unusual

Define cruel and unusual. Cruel is something that is inhumane. Unusual is something that is not normal. It seems basic enough, but the Supreme Court has had difficulty determining if lethal injection is “cruel and unusual punishment.” Interpreting the Constitution is difficult, especially since it was written over 200 years ago.

There is a debate over whether or not the prisoner feels pain. Three substances are injected into the prisoner: sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride. The sodium thiopental is supposed to render the condemned unconscious. Pancuronium bromide paralyzes the muscles, but leaves the nerve and brain functions intact. Finally, Potassium chloride stops the heart.

The sodium thiopental is an anesthetic that numbs the body of the inmate. It supposedly prevents him or her from feeling the crippling pain of the second and third injections.

Spectators cannot tell during the lethal injection if enough anesthetic has been administered until after the person has died and an autopsy has been conducted.

David Barron, a lawyer for the Center of Capital Litigation, obtained 23 autopsy records of prisoners in South Carolina who had been lethally injected. The medical records indicated that nearly half could have been awake and at least two of the victims were definitely awake at the time of their lethal injection.

With all of this information and inquiry presented before the court, they have yet to deem whether or not it is unconstitutional. This leaves lower courts with no guidance on the law to apply to the growing number of lethal injection challenges filed each year. Therefore, the fate of prison inmates rests in the interpretation of a document that is over 200 years old.

In recent years several cases have been put forth before the Supreme Court arguing that lethal injection is unconstitutional.
For example, death row inmate David Larry Nelson must have medical technicians cut through two inches of flesh to find a vein that can be used for injection because decades of drug use have damaged his circulatory system. He is arguing that the procedure would be unconstitutional.

Furthermore he says that lethal injection could cause excruciating pain if it is not properly administered.
The most recent case to date took place September 25. The Supreme Court announced it had agreed to consider the constitutionality of lethal injections as practiced in Kentucky.
The challenge was filed by two Kentucky death row inmates, Ralph Baze and Thomas Clyde Bowling, Jr. They sued Kentucky claiming the state’s lethal injection process is cruel and unusual punishment since the procedure can inflict unnecessary pain and suffering on the inmate.

On December 28, 2007 the final briefs will be filed. It will be the first time the U.S. Supreme Court has ever ruled whether lethal injection violates the Eight Amendment of cruel and unusual punishment.

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