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June 24, 2009

The still on-going struggle over lethal injection procedures in Missouri

Anyone who hoped or feared that the Supreme Court's ruling in Baze would help resolve lower court litigation over state lethal injection procedures should check out this new article from Missouri.  The piece is headlined "Mo. executions on hold because of federal review," and here are some of the particulars:

The state's incoming chief justice said Tuesday that it was unlikely any executions would be scheduled in Missouri while the courts assess an inmate's lawsuit challenging the state's lethal injection procedure.

Executions had been on hold in Missouri for four years until the state executed an inmate last month. Reginald Clemons' execution was the second scheduled in the state since the courts ruled that lethal injection in general, and the state's three-drug method in particular, was constitutional.

However, the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals put a hold on Clemons' June 17 execution after his attorneys challenged those lethal injection procedures. They are seeking further court proceedings to ensure Missouri is using competent personnel who will not cause inmates pain with insufficient amounts of anesthesia before lethal injections.

A federal decision in the Clemons case could apply to all Missouri inmates facing execution, incoming Chief Justice William Ray Price Jr. said, so it is unlikely any more would be scheduled. "We're back on hold," Price said in an interview with The Associated Press....

Of the 35 states that allow the death penalty, executions also are effectively on hold because of court cases or moratoriums in California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada and North Carolina, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center. Missouri, once a leading death penalty state, had conducted no executions from October 2005 until this May.

Price said the Missouri Supreme Court has "tried to move as expeditiously as possible" in setting executions but has been slowed by the federal courts. "We can't help that," he added.

In 2006, a federal judge declared Missouri's lethal injection process unconstitutional after the surgeon who was overseeing executions testified he sometimes transposed numbers and operated without written procedures or supervision.

The Missouri Department of Corrections responded by adopting written procedures detailing the precise amounts and order of the chemicals to be injected. A federal judge upheld the protocol in 2008, and the state Supreme Court in February upheld the process by which Missouri adopted the execution procedures.

Clemons' attorneys argued before the 8th Circuit in February that the state has not shown that it can carry out the procedures correctly. The court, which has not yet ruled on the appeal, granted a stay on June 5 without giving a reason.

June 24, 2009 at 07:31 AM | Permalink


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The 8th Circuit ought to be ashamed of itself, as should the Missouri AG, which refused to appeal the stay granted by the 8th Circuit.

Here's the relevant language from Baze:

"A stay of execution may not be granted on grounds such as those asserted here unless the condemned prisoner establishes that the State’s lethal injection protocol creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain. He must show that the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives. A State with a lethal injection protocol substantially similar to the protocol we uphold today would not create a risk that meets this standard."

These stays need to end. Federal judges are blowing off the law for the benefit of murderers.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 24, 2009 12:21:35 PM

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