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Supreme Court Will Hear Challenge To Lethal Injection Executions

via Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hear a challenge to Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol. The case could have direct impact on Missouri in at least two ways.

First, it raises questions about the use of midazolam. Oklahoma uses the drug as the first step in its execution procedure. Missouri also has administered midazolam in large doses to inmates prior to execution, though the state has claimed the drug is not part of the execution procedure.

St. Louis Public Radio's Chris McDaniel revealed the pattern of midazolam use and has sued Missouri over the secrecy it maintains regarding its lethal injection drugs and procedures. This week, he reported that the drug was given again in the state's most recent execution.

A second issue in the Oklahoma case also could affect Missouri. In Missouri, a federal appeals court ruling has held that death penalty opponents cannot challenge lethal injection protocols unless they offer a better alternative. The Oklahoma case questions whether that standard is appropriate.

Writing on scotusblog.com,Lyle Denniston summarizes the issues in the Oklahoma case this way:

"Is a three-drug execution protocol unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment if the first drug cannot reliably put the inmate into deep unconsciousness and he may therefore suffer real pain while dying from the other two drugs’ effects?

"Will the Supreme Court keep intact its declaration in a 2008 lethal-injection case (Baze v. Rees) restricting postponement of lethal-drug executions unless there is a clear risk of severe pain when compared to what would result by using an alternative protocol?

"Must a death-row inmate, seeking to challenge a state’s lethal-injection protocol, prove that a better alternative protocol is available, even if the existing procedure violates the Eighth Amendment?"

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes Anthony Rothert of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri saying the case has implications for this state.

The New York Times notesthat the justices decided to take the case even though they recently declined to halt an execution using the drugs in dispute.