Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Supreme Court backs death penalty

The highest court in America has ruled in favour of executing criminals in a crucial test case.

The US Supreme Court upheld the state of Kentucky's use of lethal injections.

The justices, by a 7-2 vote, turned back a constitutional challenge to the procedures in place in Kentucky, which uses three drugs to sedate, paralyse and kill convicts.

"We ... agree that petitioners have not carried their burden of showing that the risk of pain from maladministration of a concededly humane lethal injection protocol, and the failure to adopt untried and untested alternatives, constitute cruel and unusual punishment," Chief Justice John Roberts said.

Executions in the US have been on hold since September, when the court agreed to hear the Kentucky case. There was no immediate indication when they would resume.

The argument against the three-drug method is that if the initial anaesthetic does not take hold, the other two drugs can cause excruciating pain. One of those drugs, a paralytic, would render the prisoner unable to indicate his pain.

In the Kentucky case two death row inmates did not ask to be spared execution or death by injection. Instead, they wanted the court to order a switch to a single drug, a barbiturate, that causes no pain and can be given in a large enough dose to cause death.

At the very least, they said, the state should be required to impose tighter controls on the three-drug process to ensure that the anaesthetic is given properly.

Kentucky has had only one execution by lethal injection and it did not present any obvious problems, both sides in the case agreed.

But executions elsewhere, in Florida and Ohio, took much longer than usual, with strong indications that the prisoners suffered severe pain in the process. Workers had trouble inserting the intravenous tubes that are used to deliver the drugs.

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