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When Legislatures Delegate Death: The Troubling Paradox Behind State Uses of Electrocution and Lethal Injection and What it Says About Us


Deborah W. Denno


Fordham University School of Law

March 24, 2011

Ohio State Law Journal, Vol. 63, pp. 63-260, 2002
Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 319340

Abstract:     
This article discusses the paradoxical motivations and problems behind legislative changes from one method of execution to the next, and particularly moves from electrocution to lethal injection. The discussion primarily focuses on the author's study of current protocols for lethal injection in all thirty-six states where anesthesia is used for a state execution. The study analyzes criteria contained in many protocols that are key to applying an injection, including: the types and amounts of chemicals that are injected; the selection, training, preparation, and qualifications of the lethal injection team; the involvement of medical personnel; the presence of general witnesses and media witnesses; as well as details on how the procedure is conducted and how much of it witnesses can see. According to the study's results, criteria in many protocols are far too vague to assess adequately. When the protocols do offer details, such as the amount and type of chemicals that executioners inject, they often reveal striking errors and ignorance about the procedure. Such inaccurate or missing information heightens the likelihood that a lethal injection will be botched and suggests that states are not capable of executing an inmate humanely. The results of this article have been used in constitutional challenges to lethal injection across the country. Death penalty attorneys predict many more challenges to come.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 201

Keywords: death penalty, electrocution, lethal injection, physicians, legislatures, Eighth Amendment, prison personnel, anesthesia, executions, execution methods

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Date posted: August 22, 2002 ; Last revised: April 2, 2011

Suggested Citation

Denno, Deborah W., When Legislatures Delegate Death: The Troubling Paradox Behind State Uses of Electrocution and Lethal Injection and What it Says About Us (March 24, 2011). Ohio State Law Journal, Vol. 63, pp. 63-260, 2002; Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 319340. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=319340

Contact Information

Deborah W. Denno (Contact Author)
Fordham University School of Law ( email )
140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States
212-636-6868 (Phone)
212-636-6899 (Fax)
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