Execution Cocktails

SCOTUSblog. Lyle Denniston. April 25, 2015 — Argument preview: Execution methods: broad or narrow look? “At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the final day of oral arguments this Term, the Supreme Court will hold a one-hour hearing on an Oklahoma death penalty case that could range widely over broad constitutional questions, or — in the alternative — focus very narrowly on one very specific execution method. In an era when botched executions of death-row inmates happen more often, raising new questions about capital punishment, the Supreme Court continues to rely upon a set of legal principles about lethal-drug protocols that have not been reexamined in seven years. The Justices have given themselves the opportunity to do so next week when they hear an Oklahoma case, but just how far they are prepared to go to reopen those principles probably will only be clear as the oral argument unfolds.

In one sense, the case of Glossip v. Gross is focused on the use of a single drug in a three-drug execution “cocktail” — a sedative, the first dose, that is supposed to put the inmate in a sufficiently deep state of unconsciousness that there will be no pain, or at least only tolerable pain, from injections of the other two drugs, which paralyze and then kill. But in another sense, the entire constitutional structure surrounding execution by lethal drugs could be at stake…”

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