When Legislatures Delegate Death: The Troubling Paradox Behind State Uses of Electrocution and Lethal Injection and What it Says About Us
201 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2002 Last revised: 2 Apr 2011
Date Written: March 24, 2011
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.
Keywords: death penalty, electrocution, lethal injection, physicians, legislatures, Eighth Amendment, prison personnel, anesthesia, executions, execution methods
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