Thursday, April 24, 2008

Death Penalty is Cruel & Unusual

THE Supreme Court concluded last week, in a 7-2 ruling, that Kentucky’s three-drug method of execution by lethal injection does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts cited a Supreme Court principle from a ruling in 1890 that defines cruelty as limited to punishments that “involve torture or a lingering death.”

But the court was wrong in the 19th century, an error that has infected its jurisprudence for more than 100 years. In this nation’s landmark capital punishment cases, the resultant executions were anything but free from torture and prolonged deaths.


The majority decision in Baze v. Rees made numerous references to the notion of lethal injection as a method of humane execution. There may be humane reasons for ending someone's life, such as to end physical suffering resulting from a terminal disease, but there can be no humane way to deliberately take someone's life against their will.

The language of the Court is part of the modern death penalty process that has disconnected society and those who have a hand in the execution process from the violence of capital punishment.

Thus the Court is relying on a faulty interpretation of previous decisions, and is perpetuating the perception that the death penalty process has been transformed into a sterile process that is devoid of pain for everyone including the condemned inmate. But we must never forget the violence that the State uses to respond to violence and the terror that is part of the State's demonstration of its power.

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