Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Supreme Court Upholds Kentucky's Use of Lethal Injections

t r u t h o u t | 04.16

Supreme Court Upholds Kentucky 's Use of Lethal Injections
By Mark Sherman
The Associated Press

Wednesday 16 April 2008

Washington - The Supreme Court upheld Kentucky 's use of lethal injection executions Wednesday.

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, paralyze and kill inmates.

"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 in an opinion that garnered only three votes. Four other justices, however, agreed with the outcome.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented.

Executions 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 protocol is that if the initial anesthetic does not take hold, the other two drugs can cause excruciating pain. One of those drugs, a paralytic, would render the prisoner unable to express his discomfort.

The case before the court came from Kentucky , where 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 anesthetic 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 IV lines that are used to deliver the drugs.

Seemingly Divided Court Considers Death for Child Rapists
By Pete Yost
The Associated Press

Wednesday 16 April 2008

Proponents and opponents of imposing the death penalty for rape of a child underwent intense questioning Wednesday from a seemingly divided Supreme Court.

The hour-long argument came in the case of inmate Patrick Kennedy, sentenced to death for raping his 8-year-old stepdaughter.

Kennedy's lawyer, Jeffrey L. Fisher, told the court the death penalty for child rape under Louisiana law violates the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia challenged Fisher's position that the Louisiana law is too broad and that not enough states have enacted the death penalty for child rape to justify the Supreme Court's support for it.

"The trend has been more and more states are imposing the death penalty," said Roberts.

Louisiana is among five states that have imposed the death penalty for child rape since 1995.

The case represents a potentially different direction for a court that in recent years has narrowed the death penalty, overturning it for murderers who are juveniles or are mentally retarded.

Kennedy is "exquisitely culpable" and he has committed a crime that is "just unspeakable," Texas Solicitor General R. Ted Cruz told the court.

Louisiana prosecutor Juliet Clark described the injuries of Kennedy's stepdaughter, which required surgery, arguing that a crime of such savagery warrants Kennedy's execution.

Justice Stephen Breyer expressed concern that "suddenly we will be in the business" of broadening the death penalty for crimes other than murder.

"I am not a moralist, I am a judge," said Breyer.

Kennedy is one of only two people, both in Louisiana, on death row in the United States for raping a child without also killing the victim.

No one has been executed for anything other than murder in 44 years. In 1977, the court ruled out executions for rapists whose victims are adults.

It left open the issue of whether raping a child could lead to death.

Arguments in the Louisiana case came on the same day the high court settled an issue that had put executions across the nation on hold for months. The justices turned back a challenge to procedures for execution by lethal injection in Kentucky . Similar methods are used by roughly three dozen states.

Besides Louisiana , Montana , Oklahoma , South Carolina and Texas also allow executions of someone convicted of child rape, although the latter four states never have applied the death penalty to child rapists. Missouri, led by Gov. Matt Blunt, is considering a similar law.

Those states say there is a trend toward toughening penalties for people who victimize children and contend that death is an appropriate punishment for so horrific a crime as the rape of a child.

Kennedy's lawyers say more states have rejected the death penalty for child rapists and that the reasoning of the court's 1977 decision — that death is an excessive penalty for a rapist who does not also kill — should apply even when the victim is a child.

Groups that work to prevent sexual violence also have sided with Kennedy. They say victims often know their attacker — a relative or family friend — and that more rapes will go unreported if children have to worry that their words might lead to an execution.

The other inmate, Richard Davis, was sentenced to death in the Shreveport area in December. He has just begun appealing his conviction and sentence.

The case is Kennedy v. Louisiana , 07-343.

Amnesty Details World Executions, Calls for Action

Monday 14 April 2008

London - At least 24 people a week were executed officially last year and a further 64 sentenced to death, Amnesty International said in a report on Tuesday, adding that this was likely to be an underestimate.

In Olympic host China, where executions are a state secret, the human rights group said it had established that at least 470 people were executed - equivalent to nine a week - and a further 1,860, or 35 a week, were sentenced to death.

The figures make China the world's most prolific state executioner, Amnesty said.

"The secretive use of the death penalty must stop: the veil of secrecy surrounding the death penalty must be lifted," it said.

"Many governments claim that executions take place with public support. People therefore have a right to know what is being done in their name."

In total at least 1,252 people were executed in 24 countries last year and 3,347 sentenced to death in 51 countries, AI said, adding that some 27,500 people were now on death row globally.

Second to China was Iran with 317 executions, followed by Saudi Arabia on 143, Pakistan on 135 and the United States on 42. Between them, these five countries accounted for 88 percent of all known executions.

Amnesty International said the totals had risen from 2006 in Iran , Saudi Arabia and Pakistan .

It noted that in December 2007 the United Nations General Assembly voted by a large majority for a resolution calling for an end to the death penalty.

"The taking of life by the state is one of the most drastic acts a government can undertake. We are urging all governments to follow the commitments made at the U.N. and abolish the death penalty once and for all," Amnesty said.

Reporting by Jeremy Lovell; editing by Mark Trevelyan.

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