A Brief Look At The Death Penalty And The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court recently made a ruling on Glossip v. Gross, a case on the death penalty. By a 5-4 vote, the court upheld the use of the controversial drug midazolam as part of a three-drug cocktail used in carrying out the death penalty.  The Supreme Court concluded its term on Monday, writes NPR.

Let’s take a brief look at the situation, shall we?

According to The Economist, of the 35 people who were executed in America in 2014, at least three died a death that was unduly harsh or violent.

The problem is that states are having trouble getting the drugs they need to ensure the deaths are painless.

European companies will not sell drugs to be used in executions, and American companies are increasingly uncertain (or worried about lawsuits?) about having their brands linked to lethal injections.

Oklahoma and other states have been changing the three-drug protocol, and in some cases using a drug called midazolam, which was apparently used in the “botched” execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma last year.  It was used in others as well.

Does using midazolam defy the Eighth Amendment ban on “cruel and unusual punishment”? According to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Glossip v Gross, the answer, surprisingly, was no.

“The case was brought before the court by three prisoners on death-row in Oklahoma, who are understandably wary of an execution cocktail that includes midazolam,” writes The Economist.

In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the petitioners failed to prove that midazolam offers a ‘substantial risk of serious harm’.

Citing evidence that the sedative is effective at the right dosage, the court found that while Clayton Lockett received too little of it, the same three-drug mix finished off 12 other prisoners “without any significant problems”.

The 8th amendment reads:  Amendment VIII. “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

The 28 member nations of the E.U. have banned the death penalty.   It is a requirement for joining the E.U.

Let’s look at some history of the death penalty in the West.  According to deathpenalty.org:

“In the aftermath of World War II, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This 1948 doctrine proclaimed a “right to life” in an absolute fashion, any limitations being only implicit. Knowing that international abolition of the death penalty was not yet a realistic goal in the years following the Universal Declaration, the United Nations shifted its focus to limiting the scope of the death penalty to protect juveniles, pregnant women, and the elderly.”

“During the 1950s and 1960s subsequent international human rights treaties were drafted, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the American Convention on Human Rights.

“These documents also provided for the right to life, but included the death penalty as an exception that must be accompanied by strict procedural safeguards. Despite this exception, many nations throughout Western Europe stopped using capital punishment, even if they did not, technically, abolish it. As a result, this de facto abolition became the norm in Western Europe by the 1980s.” (Schabas, 1997)

The U.S. already had a moratorium on the death penalty.  That began in 1972 after the case of Furman v. Georgia.

According to deathpenalty.org:

“In Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, (1972), the Court invalidated existing death penalty laws because they constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.  The Court reasoned that the laws resulted in a disproportionate application of the death penalty, specifically discriminating against the poor and minorities.  The Court also reasoned that the existing laws terminated life in exchange for marginal contributions to society.”

The death penalty was reinstated in 1977, after the case of Gregg v. Georgia:

In Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, (1976), the Court refused to expand Furman.  The Court held the death penalty was not per se unconstitutional as it could serve the social purposes of retribution and deterrence.  Specifically, the Court upheld Georgia’s new capital sentencing procedures, reasoning that the Georgia rules reduced the problem of arbitrary application as seen in earlier statutes.

Clayton Lockett spent 43 minutes writhing in pain on the gurney, according to The Economist.  “This shit is fucking with my head,” he said before finally dying.

NFL Moves Extra Point To 15-yard line

NFL American Football team owners approved a Competition Committee’s proposal on extra points for the 2015 season, writes nfl.com.

The NFL announced the extra point will now be kicked from the 15-yard line as opposed to within the 10-yard line, with two-point conversions remaining at the 2-yard line.

The new rule also gives the defense the ability to score two points on returns.

According to the rule change, if the defense returns a blocked extra point or failed two-point try for a touchdown (i.e. on an interception), they will be awarded two points, writes nfl.com.

Under the previous rule, on a failed try, the ball was a “dead ball” and could not be moved.

NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino said teams could change their attempt decision if a penalty occurs.

The approved rule, which was decided by a 30-2 vote by owners, was one of three proposals considered by owners on Tuesday at the NFL’s Spring League Meeting, writes nfl.com.

Owners considered a proposal by the New England Patriots similar to the adopted plan, but without the defense’s ability to score. A plan proposed by the Philadelphia Eagles called for a 15-yard Point After Touchdown (PAT) and the ball on the 1-yard line for two-point tries.

The NFL has been tinkering with the PAT in hopes of making it a more difficult and therefore entertaining play for spectators. The latest change might be just the first step of further adjustments in years to come.

NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport also reported that the Redskins‘ proposal to have roster cuts done all at once  – moving from 90-man to 53-man rosters prior to the start of the season – was voted down by owners, per a source.

http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000493347/article/nfl-moves-extra-point-to-15yard-line-for-2015-season

MSNBC Coverage Of Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Receiving Death Penalty

MSNBC

A jury has decided to sentence Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to the death penalty by lethal injection for his role in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Three people were killed and 260 were injured when Tsarnaev and his brother placed bombs at the finishing line of the Boston Marathon in 2013, writes BBC News.

Tsarnaev is likely to be moved to a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, but there may be years worth of appeals of the verdict.

Prior To Execution, Texas Man Convicted Of Killing Three Says ‘I’m Ready To Go Home’

Derrick Dewayne Charles, 32, was executed on Tuesday for the slayings of Myiesha Bennett, her mother, Brenda Bennett, 44, and her grandfather, Obie Bennett, 77, in Houston in July 2002

Triple murderer Derrick Charles was asked if he wanted to make a final statement before being executed only to reply “Nah I’m ready to go home.”

The Texas inmate has been executed for the killings of his 15-year-old girlfriend, her mother and her grandfather nearly 13 years ago in Houston.

Derrick Dewayne Charles, 32, was put to death this year in the nation’s most active capital punishment state on Tuesday.  He was pronounced dead at 6:36 p.m. Central Standard Time, 25 minutes after being given the execution drug, writes The U.K. Daily Mail.

He was put to death after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to rule that he was mentally incompetent.

“He was the seventh person put to death in Texas this year, at a time when lethal injections are on hold in several states around the nation,” writes the Mirror.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/im-ready-go-home—5688954

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3079123/Nah-m-ready-home-Texas-man-32-executed-13-years-killed-girlfriend-mother-grandfather.html

Brothers Who Spent Decades Behind Bars For A Crime They Didn’t Commit Get Initial Payment Of $1.6 million


WEWS NewsChannel5

A judge ruled Friday that two brothers wrongly convicted for a 1975 slaying they didn’t commit will receive $1.6 million in an initial payment for the decades they spent in Ohio prisons.

Judge Patrick McGrath of the Ohio Court of Claims said that Wiley Bridgeman – 60 – will get a check for $969,093, and his brother, Kwame Ajamu, 57, will be given $647,578.  Ajamu previously changed his name from Ronnie Bridgeman.

“I’m very glad this is headed toward the end of the process,” Ajamu told The Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper.  “But this was never about financial gain. It was about getting my brother out and getting Ricky Jackson out.”

Bridgeman was released Nov. 21, more than 39 years after he had been locked up. Ajamu was released from prison in 2003.  Bridgemand and Ajamu, along with friend Ricky Jackson, were all convicted of murdering a man near University Circle in Cleveland in 1975.

More:

http://fox8.com/2014/11/20/we-are-free-wrongly-convicted-man-to-join-friend-who-also-spent-decades-behind-bars/

Delaware Senate Votes To Get Rid Of The Death Penalty

For the second time in three years, lawmakers in the Deleware state Senate narrowly voted to repeal the death penalty in the state, according to USA Today.

The Senate voted 11-9 on Thursday in favor of repeal.

This sets up a battle in the Delaware House of Representatives, where police groups and the chamber’s top Democrat will oppose the effort.  The House of Representatives in Delaware has 41 members.

The legislation, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Karen Peterson, includes an exemption for the 15 inmates currently sitting on Delaware’s death row.  They would still face execution by lethal injection, claims USA Today.

The measure has support from clergy.  It also has support from a political effort partly organized by a man named Erik Raser Schramm, a Democratic operative and former top aide to Delaware House Democrats.

Groups supporting State Senator Peterson’s bill includes the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware, the Delaware Center for Justice, and the League of Women Voters.

Governor Jack Markell has yet to speak about it.  A spokeswoman for Markell said in an e-mail Thursday that the governor would not take a position.

State Senator Peterson said she wished Markell would take a stand on the matter like former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley did when that state repealed its death penalty in 2013.

O’Malley is a Democrat looking into running in the presidential primaries against Hillary Clinton.

“We tried to encourage our governor to do the same … but he’s not comfortable with that for some apparent reason,” the state senator said.

(Updated post)

Vice News Discusses The Death Penalty

Vice News

Recently, Vice News traveled around the world speaking to people about capital punishment, and differences in global attitudes on the death penalty.

In this video, they asked people whether the death penalty is outdated, and how effective capital punishment is as a crime deterrent.

(Updated article)

Conservative Oklahoma Archbishop Speaks Out Against The Death Penalty

According to the publication “Patheos,” on April 30th last year – the day after the bungled execution of Oklahoma prisoner Clayton Lockett – the Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, Archbishop of Oklahoma City, said the unprecedented execution of the convicted killer underscored the brutality of the death penalty and urged Oklahomans to weigh carefully the demands of justice and mercy.

On April 29, in McAlester, Oklahoma, the planned execution of convicted killer Clayton Lockett – using a new three-drug lethal injection protocol – failed.

It left Lockett showing unexpected signs of pain and Oklahoma prison officials decided to halt the proceedings. Lockett reportedly later died of a “heart attack.”

Paul Coakley, the Catholic archbishop, said: “How we treat criminals says a lot about us as a society.”

He stated, “We certainly need to administer justice with due consideration for the victims of crime, but we must find a way of doing so that does not contribute to the culture of death, which threatens to completely erode our sense of the innate dignity of the human person and of the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death.”

“Once we recover our understanding that life is a gift from our Creator, wholly unearned and wholly unmerited by any of us, we will begin to recognize that there are and ought to be very strict limits to the legitimate use of the death penalty. It should never be used, for example, to exact vengeance, nor should it be allowed simply as a deterrent. In general, there are others ways to administer just punishment without resorting to lethal measures,” said Coakley.

“The execution of Clayton Lockett really highlights the brutality of the death penalty, and I hope it leads us to consider whether we should adopt a moratorium on the death penalty or even abolish it altogether,” he said, according to Patheos.

“In the meantime, let us pray for peace for all those affected by or involved in last night’s execution in any way – including Lockett himself, his family, prison officials and others who witnessed the event. My compassion and prayers go out especially to the family of Stephanie Neiman, whom Lockett was convicted of killing.”

More:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/publiccatholic/2014/04/archbishop-coakleys-statement-on-oklahomas-botched-execution/#ixzz3VtfEHNcf

(Updated post to remove the term “Catholic publication”)

The Boston Globe: ‘Thank Death Penalty Foes For Firing Squads’

The Boston Globe ran a piece ironically titled “Thank Death Penalty Foes For Firing Squads.”

In a twist of logic, the piece blames death penalty opponents for states quest for more cruel and unusual forms of putting people to death.

Boston Globe:  “This quest for substitutes to lethal injection is the result of a determined campaign by death-penalty opponents to keep pharmaceutical companies from selling the drugs used in executions to state prison systems. But it’s one thing to impede the use of a specific method of executing murderers — even a method that had widely been regarded as the most humane alternative to electrocution or hanging. It’s something quite different, something much more difficult, to overturn the longstanding American consensus that in the most terrible cases of murder, killers should pay with their lives.”

However, there’s one big reason why the United States has a dearth of execution drugs so acute that some states are considering solutions such as firing squads and gas chambers: Europe’s fierce hostility to capital punishment, states Business Insider.

Business Insider states that the phenomenon started nine years ago when the EU banned the export of products used for execution, citing its goal to be the “leading institutional actor and largest donor to the fight against the death penalty.”

According to Amnesty International, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty.

That is the majority.

In 2013, 22 countries around the world were known to have carried out executions and at least 57 to have imposed death sentences.

The Boston Globe seems to blame Europe – and the world – for America turning to firing squads because of a lack of appropriate death penalty drugs.

The Boston Globe:

“But the last American manufacturer of the drug halted production in 2011, and a European embargo on exporting the needed drugs for use in executions made it impossible to get them from overseas. Some states, forced to improvise as their inventory dwindled, turned to unnamed compounding pharmacies, or they formulated new, largely untested, lethal-injection protocols. In some instances, such as the bungled execution of Oklahoma murderer-rapist Clayton Lockett last year, the results have been gruesome and disturbing.”

In the words of Larry Flynt, who was shot by Joseph Paul Franklin in 1978, “…a government that forbids killing among its citizens should not be in the business of killing people itself.”

More here:

http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0777460.html#ixzz3UlvvE6AT

http://www.businessinsider.com/americas-lethal-injection-drug-crisis-starts-in-europe-2014-2#ixzz3UlteKEHc

Is There Censorship Surrounding The Death Penalty?

Due to a European Union ban on selling drugs used in lethal injections, death penalty states now rely on compounding pharmacies, according to Business Insider.

Compounding pharmacies are typically small businesses who produce execution cocktails to order. These compounds are unregulated by the FDA, and their manufacturers are cloaked in secrecy, states ReasonTV.

“Since the 70s, America has tried to sanitize the way it kills people in death chambers by saying that this is an act of medical intervention,” says Ed Pilkington, chief reporter for The Guardian US.

Pilkington describes the botched execution of Clayton Lockett of Oklahoma in April 2014, as related to him by a Guardian colleague who witnessed Lockett’s execution:

“He was groaning, he was shouting out. They were finding it impossible to get the vein, so blood was spurting over all the people in the death chamber, I mean it was the most horrendous situation. And right at that moment they decided to shut the curtain, which would prevent any witnesses, including reporters, from seeing what happened.”

Pilkington calls this the “most visceral form of censorship” and says “there should be maximum transparency.”

He claims the current system has complete secrecy surrounding every step of the execution process, from the sources of the drugs themselves to the grisly reality when those drugs fail to kill the condemned in a timely and painless fashion.

Missouri is one of 13 states to have expanded what are known as “black hood laws,” which are meant to protect the identities of executioners, to now also make confidential everyone involved in the production and delivery of lethal injection drugs. These laws even supersede the Freedom of Information Act.

In response, The Guardian, Associated Press, and several prominent Missouri newspapers have filed suit against the state, in what is believed to be the First Amendment challenge to the death penalty.

The lawsuit argues the public has a First Amendment right to access all information pertaining to government activities in capital cases, beginning in the courtroom, through the death chamber, and into the autopsy room. No court date has been set.


ReasonTV

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