Botched Statistics on Botched Executions: Refuting Austin Sarat’s Claims
Michael Conklin, Botching Statistics on Botched Executions: Refuting Austin Sarat’s Claims, ___ CUMB. L. REV. ONLINE ___ (2020 Forthcoming)
9 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2020
Date Written: 2020
Austin Sarat’s statistics on execution method botch rates have been cited by law review articles promoting various policies including the use of firing squads over lethal injections. They have also been cited by the United States Supreme Court. The conclusion of Sarat’s statistics is that there exists a 0% botch rate for firing squads and a 7.12% botch rate for lethal injection. These frequently cited statistics are — at best — highly misleading. The claimed firing squad botch rate leaves out blatant examples of botched firing squad executions. Conversely, the lethal injection statistic arbitrarily implements a definition of “botched” execution so expansive as to render the ultimate result completely meaningless. Examples of what Sarat considers a “botched” lethal injection include inmates who resist, difficulties inserting the IV, the passage of fourteen minutes before official death is declared, and prison officials opening the curtain too early. This essay documents the various problems with Sarat’s execution botch rate statistics and considers potential motivations for promoting the resulting misinformation.
Keywords: Austin Sarat, Gruesome Spectacles, Death penalty, Capital punishment, Eighth amendment, Cruel and unusual punishment, Lethal injection, Firing squad
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