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October 22, 2017

Lengthy look into latest significant(?) execution in Alabama

This lengthy local article, headlined "'I hate you': Inside the execution chamber as Alabama cop-killer put to death," provides an extended account of the lethal injection process to complete the sentence given to Torrey McNabb for murdering a police officer back in 1997. The folks at the Death Penalty Information Center suggest in this posting that the execution is significant because of how long the lethal injection process took.  In contrast, as evidenced by posts here and here, Kent Scheidegger at Crime & Consequences instead found significant the willingness of the Supreme Court to vacate lower court stays concerning executions protocols to ensure this execution went forward.

I have put a question mark in the title of this post because I am not sure any individual executions or individual stay ruling are really all that significant in the long-running litigious lethal injection wars.  Some lower court judges still seem inclined to find problems in nearly every possible state lethal injection plan, while a majority of the Supreme Court Justices seem now content that the latest standard approaches states have been adopting are sufficient for constitutional purposes. This leads me to predict continued lower-court legal wrangling that gums up the works of the machinery of death, but still allows a few states to complete an execution or two every so often.

Notably, this DPIC review of yearly executions indicates that this latest Alabama execution was the 21st of 2017, meaning this year already represents an uptick in execution compared to 2016.  But it also means that we are still on pace this year to have the second or maybe third fewest years executions in a quarter century. 

UPDATE: This new USA Today article, headlined "Executions rise in 2017, but downward trend continues," provides a broader context for recent developments. It starts this way:

The nation's rapidly declining rate of executions has leveled off, but opponents of capital punishment say the death penalty remains on borrowed time. The execution Thursday of Alabama cop killer Torrey McNabb was the 21st this year, marking the first time that number has risen since 2009. The 2017 total could approach 30 before the year is out, depending on last-minute legal battles.

That ends a relatively steady drop in executions since 2009, when there were 52. Only three times has the annual number increased since executions peaked at 98 in 1999.

Several factors have contributed to this year's hiatus in the broader trend. Eight states carried out executions, a spike from recent years. Among them were Arkansas, which executed four prisoners over eight days in April before its supply of lethal injection drugs expired, and Florida, which had halted executions for 18 months after the Supreme Court found its sentencing procedure unconstitutional.

Other executions this year have illustrated the problems opponents highlight in their quest to end capital punishment. Claims of innocence and requests for additional forensic testing went unheeded. Faced with complaints from pharmaceutical companies, some states used secretive methods to obtain drugs for lethal injections. And amid charges of racial disparities, nearly all the murder victims were white.

Yet another issue will be on display during oral arguments at the Supreme Court next week: whether indigent defendants in capital cases must prove they need more experienced lawyers and resources before they will be provided.

Despite all those factors, death penalty opponents say they're not worried about the slight uptick in executions. They note that three-, five- and 10-year trends remain down.

October 22, 2017 at 09:48 AM | Permalink


I support the Italian death penalty. There he would have been beaten and repeatedly stabbed for a half hour, in exchange for a carton of cigarettes, at no tax payer expense.

Posted by: David Behar | Oct 22, 2017 11:01:26 AM

Both Berman and Scheidegger are lawyers. They are oblivious.

The Supreme Court is fine tuning this system to maintain the $billion death penalty appellate business for the lawyer profession.

The death penalty should be ended by federal law, and the DPIC should go out of business. All the European nations know how to do this better. They execute thousands of violent and annoying criminals a year, through the Italian death penalty, all of them at no additional tax payer expense.

Posted by: David Behar | Oct 22, 2017 11:06:13 AM

You are going to find "individual" judges with strict standards, at various times stricter than five justices on SCOTUS (including five conservative ones, one less so on certain issues specifically), but one or more times recently it was the court of appeals as such who wanted to wait before authorizing an execution. When it is not merely "individual" judges, but enough for the court of appeals to throw down a red flag, it's a bit different.

[For instance, one comment recently was upset that a judge who usually supported the state's side joined the panel involved to delay things. Maybe, when that happens, it is a red flag.]

I predict future wrangling because executing people is ending their life, and in this country, even those supportive of the death penalty are wary of doing so, especially those directly involved in the process. Add to the fact that the death penalty is messy, it is going to continue to be a continuing "wrangle."

Posted by: Joe | Oct 22, 2017 12:34:01 PM

I also continually am upset that justices, are both sides, don't do more to clarify their position when they overturn or vote on the record stating they would lower courts here.

A recent order by SCOTUS briefly did explain but two justices dissented without opinion. Either way, they should explain themselves, either making clear why the lower court was wrong or why they think the majority of the Supreme Court is wrong. Again, when the Supreme Court votes per curiam, we are not supposed to assume everyone not saying anything agreed with the final result.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 22, 2017 12:37:26 PM

DB needs an urgent psychiatric help.

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | Oct 22, 2017 1:12:24 PM

Claudio. Many thanks for introducing me to the Italian way and to many colorful Italian expressions. I am putting both to good use.

Here, in the US, the lawyers are the stupidest people in our country. Among the lawyers, the stupidest are those graduating from the law schools of the Ivy League. Among those graduates, the stupidest are those that sit as Justices of the Supreme Court. They are stupid to the extreme but very shrewd. They are able to maintain their scheme of ripping off the tax payer to the tune of $billions. Then people like Joe, actually take them seriously, and would like more explanation, more analysis, so they can understand the rules they are making better. Meanwhile, there is only one rule. Maintain lawyer appellate advocacy jobs.

Posted by: David Behar | Oct 22, 2017 2:43:36 PM

mammmmammmmmamiaa !!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | Oct 22, 2017 3:40:49 PM

Aren’t DAs lawyers???

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | Oct 23, 2017 9:01:34 AM

Claudio. Yes, DA's are lawyers, as are judges in this country. I support the Italian practice of having inquisitorial judges. In Italy, the judge can go looking for facts. They are the smartest people, with the most experience in the court. It gets worse. Appellate courts cannot review substance. They may only review mistakes of law. That encourages worthless loophole seeking, nitpicking, and frivolous complaints. It is a factor, among many other stupidities of American law, for the unconscionably high rate of exoneration in this country. That rate comes close to being a crime against humanity.

In the United States, if a judge were to drive by the crime scene, he would be immediately removed, and could lose his law license. In the stupidest system of law in the world, they have completely disabled the smartest and most experienced person in the tribunal.

Posted by: David Behar | Oct 23, 2017 10:56:33 AM

Behar, sorry the straightjacket is too tight.

Posted by: Ted | Oct 23, 2017 7:18:16 PM

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