The U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to hear arguments early next year on whether lethal injections violate the U.S. Constitution's ban against cruel and unusual punishment.
It is an issue that has brought a halt to executions in more than a dozen states, nine of which are facing litigation on the matter. While we oppose the death penalty, we also believe the high court needs to clarify the hodgepodge of state laws that has left states in a quandary over the death penalty.
Colorado, one of 37 states that allows the death penalty, has used lethal injection just once since it was instituted here in 1988. Gary Davis was put to death on Oct. 13, 1997, using a lethal cocktail. Before that, executions in this state were carried out by hanging and lethal gas.
Death penalty supporters consider lethal injection to be less painful than other forms of execution, including the electric chair (which is still used in Nebraska). But there have been problems with lethal injection, largely with the administration of the drugs that are supposed to bring about a quick and painless death. The American Medical Association prohibits doctors from taking part in any aspect of an execution. Instead, the injection is given by volunteers, who run the risk of making mistakes.
There are currently no uniform standards for carrying out lethal injections, and lawsuits have been brought in various states challenging the methods for carrying out the sentence. In addition, there is adequate evidence that the injection, with some frequency, does not fully anesthetize the prisoners, leaving them paralyzed and able to feel severe pain as a heart-stopping drug is injected.
Two Kentucky death row inmates, each convicted of a double murder, brought the appeal now pending before the Supreme Court. They claim that lethal injection presents an "unnecessary risk" of pain and suffering. The Kentucky Supreme Court concluded in the case that the Constitution's prohibition against cruel punishment "does not require a complete absence of pain."
The high court agreed in September to consider the constitutionality of lethal injections. The justices are expected to hear arguments early next year.
While we don't expect the justices to determine whether or not capital punishment is constitutional, we hope the court will insist on stricter, more uniform standards for putting people to death by lethal injection.
Denver Post Editorial