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December 20, 2007

Tennessee state legislator calling for one-drug lethal injection protocol

In this op-ed a local paper, a prominent state representative in Tennessee calls for the state to move to a new lethal injection protocol in order to avoid having to wait for the Supreme Court's ruling in the Baze lethal injection case from Kentucky.  The piece is headlined "Governor should start executions now," and here are excerpts:

The death penalty, when evenly applied, can and does serve as a means to deter horrific crimes from being committed and brings justice to the families of previous crime victims.  Unfortunately, since Gov. Bredesen has been in office, the death penalty has been anything but evenly applied....

After U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger ruled in September that Tennessee's method of lethal injection was unconstitutional, I, along with a colleague, sent two letters to the governor requesting that he not delay executions because of the ruling. We argued that in addition to other methods being available to the state, none other than Judge Trauger herself was also quoted as saying that the administration didn't give enough consideration to the possibility of moving to the one-drug method of lethal injection.  In spite of this, the governor has decided to delay any executions pending the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court case examining the death penalty.

As it stands now, this decision has stalled one execution and placed another in jeopardy....  By the time a criminal in this state reaches the point of execution, they have been afforded every opportunity — appeals, access to lawyers and judicial review — to ensure that their rights are properly carried out and protected. However, in typical style, these criminals have received even more opportunities under Gov. Bredesen's watch.

In light of Judge Trauger's ruling, it is time for Tennessee to explore other options, such as the one-drug method form of lethal injection that has not been challenged in any court. The governor has referred to the suggestion of examining the one-drug method of execution as a "red herring." This couldn't be further from the truth; rather, the one-drug method is a solution — and I believe it is one worth exploring.

The innocent and unfortunate victims of these heinous crimes deserve nothing less than for us to take a second look at the pain these heartless criminals have caused their families. So while Gov. Bredesen works to ensure a merry Christmas for death row inmates, my colleagues and I will continue to remember the victims' families as they suffer through another Christmas without their loved ones.

December 20, 2007 at 05:23 PM | Permalink

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Comments

While not denying the grief of the victims, their grief is in reality no greater than that of any relative who have lost a loved one to murder or manslaughter. In the absence of a death sentence, they achieve closure in their own time - and a good deal faster. Closure has never been a serious justification for state murder.
This is yet another opportunistic call for perceived political benefit. It shows also, in my view, a serious contempt of the Supreme Court.

Posted by: peter | Dec 20, 2007 5:42:07 PM

The Supreme Court has done some pretty contemptible things with respect to the lethal injection mess. A Legislator not wanting to wait for whatever comes down is understandable.

Execution is not "state murder". Your propagandizing shows you to be deeply unserious.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 20, 2007 6:00:40 PM

It shows also, in my view, a serious contempt of the Supreme Court.

How so?

Posted by: | Dec 20, 2007 6:22:32 PM

The premeditated killing of a defenseless person is murder. It may be uncomfortable to use the words, but just as the term execution is sometimes used in cases of murder (eg. shot in the back of the head), the term state murder accurately describes state executions. No amount of legal finesse will ever change that.

"It shows also, in my view, a serious contempt of the Supreme Court. How so?"

federalist for one has just demonstrated how so.
The Supreme Court has effectively called a moratorium while the case that the present lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment is before them. This will be decided in months, not years. Since there is no logical reason for haste in executions, any attempt to circumvent their deliberations makes a mockery of the supremacy of the Supreme Court. In Tennessee especially, since it has only executed 4 people since 1960 - the contempt is palpable.

Posted by: peter | Dec 20, 2007 6:38:51 PM

federalist for one has just demonstrated how so.
The Supreme Court has effectively called a moratorium while the case that the present lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment is before them. This will be decided in months, not years. Since there is no logical reason for haste in executions, any attempt to circumvent their deliberations makes a mockery of the supremacy of the Supreme Court. In Tennessee especially, since it has only executed 4 people since 1960 - the contempt is palpable.

federalist hasn't demonstrated anything except that he/she/it still reads this blog and still has his/her/its knee jerk reflex connected to a keyboard.

I submit that the issue before the Supreme Court is whether a particular mode of administering a lethal injection is cruel and unusual. The main argument, as I understand it, is that there is some potential for malfunctioning whereby the person being executed feels intense pain (because the anesthetic doesn't work), but is unable to indicate that (because the paralytic does work). The representative is suggesting avoiding the controversy altogether by using a different mode of lethal injection that doesn't have that effect. I don't see the contempt.

If the Supreme Court has a broader view of what Baze is about, it is free to approve the inevitable stay application it would get.

Posted by: | Dec 20, 2007 8:15:18 PM

The purpose of the Constitution was to both ensure a workable framework of political and legal order, and to ensure Justice for the citizens of America who suffer or benefit from the decisions of politicians and the legislature.
The three parts of that framework are charged to work together to give effect to that purpose, yet act to give balance and checks that make the process transparent.
There are times when each of these parts may, in the interests of fulfillment of their charge, find themselves in the position of being required to take the initiative on a particular issue. I believe, as New Jersey has done, and other States recently (though failing by narrow margins of opposition or through political cowardice), that 2007 has shown that this moment in time is here and now. The Supreme Court has implicitly acknowledged that, in causing a general moratorium after decades of acceptance of a known flawed system of lethal injection. Were it to prove otherwise, the Court would certainly risk a credibility crisis from the public, who consistently have shown in recent times a widespread movement (even majority) toward the preference of LWOP to execution, given the choice to express themselves on the matter.
As regards the issue of contempt by a legislator in Tennessee, can I remind you that:
"By a vote of 79-14, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed bipartisan legislation creating a study commission to examine the state's death penalty system. A similar measure unanimously passed the state's Senate in May, just one month after the American Bar Association issued a report finding that the state was not in full compliance with most of the benchmarks established to guarantee a fair death penalty system.

The new commission will consist of representatives from the House, Senate, and Governor's administration, as well as prosecutors, defense attorneys, victims' advocates, and representatives from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The commission members are expected to review Tennessee's death penalty system for one year following their appointment."
And in the words of Stacy Rector, Executive Director the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing, noted, “Tennessee’s death penalty system is dangerously broken, and the legislature should be commended for acknowledging these flaws and taking steps to fix them. . . . Tennessee has a death row of over 100 individuals and the largest legal organization in the country has said that we do not even have the proper mechanisms in place to guarantee that we do not execute an innocent person. Tennesseans deserve a system we can trust, and our current system doesn’t meet that standard.”
This maverick State Senator is also in contempt of his own legislature.

Posted by: peter | Dec 21, 2007 3:33:20 AM

So... (1) Peter doesn't like the death penalty, and (2) Peter can't tell the difference between contempt and disagreement. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: | Dec 21, 2007 10:19:06 AM

One out of two right, but ah ... your feeble response is contemptible.

Posted by: peter | Dec 21, 2007 10:52:13 AM

I really hate to agree with Federalist, because he is so over the top, but here goes.

Federalist is right that not all killings are murder. But, execution is still killing.

For examples of non-murder killings, you can take: 1) war; 2) euthanasia; and 3) accidents.

Changing a law to avoid Supreme Court precedent is not contempt of the Supreme Court. Contempt would be to simply ignore or disobey an order from the Supreme Court or any court. That isn’t even proposed here. Instead, it seems that a legislator is proposing to avoid various “stays” and to (likely) present a different issue to the Supremes.

“The Supreme Court has effectively called a moratorium” <– this isn’t quite true. Ths Supreme Court has, on a case by case, basis stayed some executions while it resolves the killing method in another case. It may well be that the Supreme Court would stay any new method of killing as well. But, that would be up to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court has not declared all forms of state-killing illegal. Yet.

Posted by: S.cotus | Dec 21, 2007 10:59:23 AM

Well, gee, Peter, we'd never want to show contempt for the Supreme Court, now would we?

Posted by: federalist | Dec 21, 2007 5:01:30 PM

As long as the one drug is a strong opiate/opioid or (less preferably) a strong barbiturate (either used to cause overdose), no complaint can be made about unnecessary (or any) pain, agony, suffering. So, it completely moots the Baze argument that stems from the (idiotic) three drug cocktail.

I'm against the death penatly on practical grounds (not moral ones), but I've long argued that if the state wants to end all of these "method" complaints, all they need to do is give the defendant an opiate overdose. One last huge shot of heroin. Or Fentanyl, sufentanil, remifentanil, or carfentanil (strongest opioid ever made). Or Oxycodone. Or Morphine. Whatever. Give an IV injection of a humongous dose (after several years on death row, anyone with a high tolerance for opiates due to addiction will have lost that tolerance, and regardless, there's no upper limit to the amount that can be given). The reason they don't do this is because they WANT to cause some suffering. The notion that it would be a pleasurable death by a drug the defendant would love to use himself (albeit in non-lethal doses) is too much for the vindictive to handle, and victim's families would say it would reduce their "closure" because the defendant got to go out on a 'high' while the victim got an axe in the head or whatever.

Posted by: bruce | Dec 22, 2007 2:19:33 AM

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