SCOTUS to rule on lethal injection drug

February 5th, 2015



The Supreme Court of the United States  ruled to stay the executions of three convicted murderers in Oklahoma on Wednesday, Jan. 28.


The executions of Richard Glossip, John Grant and Benjamin Cole have been postponed as a result of pending deliberations surrounding the three-drug mix used in lethal injections. It is in question if the use of the drugs violates the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which bans “cruel and unusual punishment.”


Many critics of the drugs are citing the first drug, midazolam, as the primary problem. Midazolam, a member of the benzodiazepines class of medications, is supposed to work as a sedative. It is used before the paralytic and the heart-stopping drugs are administered, according to The New York Times.


According to MedlinePlus, a website produced by the National Library of Medicine, midazolam should, “cause drowsiness, relieve anxiety, and prevent any memory of the event.”


The Supreme Court case will decide whether complete sedation is necessary to take away the pain from the heart-stopping drug, according to The New York Times. Many scientists attest that midazolam is not an appropriate drug for sedation.


Much of the controversy surrounding the use of midazolam stems from multiple botched executions over the past year. According to NBC, Oklahoman Clayton Lockett received the aforementioned drug concoction. It took him approximately 40 minutes to die.


Lockett was convicted of shooting a 19-year-old woman and burying her alive in 1999.


Similarly in Ohio this past year, Dennis McGuire, who was convicted of “raping, sodomizing and slashing the throat” of a 22-year-old pregnant woman, took 25 minutes to die after the lethal injection was administered, according to NBC.


The lethal injection used to euthanize McGuire included the sedative midazolam, according to NBC.


While the Supreme Court did reject McGuire’s case in terms of the Eighth Amendment, the Supreme Court did agree to stay the executions of Glossip, Grant and Cole in light of the numerous botched executions over the past year.


Glossip, who was convicted of planning his employer’s death, was scheduled to be executed on Thursday, Jan. 29. Both Grant, convicted of killing a prison cafeteria worker, and Cole, found guilty of killing his infant daughter by breaking her spine, were scheduled to be executed in the coming months.


According to The New York Times, the Supreme Court will begin to hear arguments about the cases in April.


Sara Schiavoni, a lecturer of political science at John Carroll University whose area of expertise is the federal courts, stated, “Well, we know we will have a judgment by the last week in June.”


Furthermore, Schiavoni predicts the Supreme Court will rule that the use of midazolam is constitutionally permissible, based upon prior Eighth Amendment cases. She believes the final ruling will be five to four, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia voting that the drug is constitutionally permissible.


According to NBC, this is the first time since 2008 that the Supreme Court will hear a case pertaining to lethal injection.


Editor’s Note: Information from NBC, MedlinePlus and The New York Times was used in this report.