Lethal Injection Is Not Cruel And Unusual Punishment – SCOTUS

It does not appear that the death penalty, as a way of punishing certain criminals, is going to be a thing of the past in the United States, especially in the State of Oklahoma. Earlier today, the Supreme Court of the United States confirmed the use of a lethal injection as a way to execute a convicted person. The Supreme Court found that the use of a lethal injection was not in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, particularly the ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Today’s ruling sends a strong message to advocates against the death penalty that it is here to stay.

This is not the first time that the constitutionality of lethal injection as a way of capital punishment has come before the Supreme Court. In 2008, the Supreme Court in Baze v. Rees 553 U.S. 35, upheld Kentucky’s use of lethal injection in carrying out capital punishment and held that it was consistent with the Constitution of the United States.

Although, many countries in the world have abolished the death penalty, only 18 states in the US have abolished it; with the latest being Maryland in 2013. Interestingly, a survey conducted in 2013, as reported by the Washington Post, revealed that 55% of Americans still believe that the death penalty should remain on the statute books.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, all states and the federal government use lethal injection as their primary method of execution. States use a variety of protocols using one, two, or three drugs. The three-drug protocol uses an anesthetic or sedative, typically followed by pancuronium bromide to paralyze the inmate and potassium chloride to stop the inmate’s heart. The one or two-drug protocols typically use a lethal dose of an anesthetic or sedative.

In the case decided today (Glossip v. Gross), the Petitioners were objecting to the use of a sedative called “midazolam” because according to them, midazolam could not achieve the level on unconsciousness required to carry out surgery and therefore the said drug was not suitable for execution. The Supreme Court dismissed this argument and held that the Petitioners had failed to establish that any risk of harm was substantial when compared to a known and available alternative method of execution, as held in Baze v. Rees.

The death penalty remains a form of punishment under Ghanaian law for certain offences such as murder, attempt to commit murder by a convict, genocide and high treason, and also for specific offences related to the armed forces/military. The use of lethal injection is also permitted under Ghanaian law. Section 304(3) of the Criminal and Other Offences (Procedure) Act, 1960 (Act 30) states that “the execution may be by hanging, lethal injection, electrocution, gas chamber, or any other method determined by the court.

Ghana has not carried out any execution since 1993 so it may be deemed to have abolished the death penalty de facto. However, so long as it remains an option for capital punishment, it may be applied at any time.

Written by:

Kow Essuman, Esq.

*The author is a barrister; qualified to practise law in England and Wales, New York and Ghana. He is a Global Shaper (Accra Hub) of the World Economic Forum. He may be reached on kow@kaessuman.com.

One Comment on “Lethal Injection Is Not Cruel And Unusual Punishment – SCOTUS

  1. As much as I agree with the pro life advocates, it is imperative that we have the death penalty as a form of punishment only in the extreme. It is only cruel when the wrong person dies and that is the more reason it should be exercised cautiously. As a country, we need to decide on whether to entirely do away with the death penalty.

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