In the wake of an alarming number of horrific executions over the last few months, numerous states are beginning to reevaluate their methods when it comes to the death penalty. The more they analyze and search out other and more effective means for executing prisoners, however, the less the public supports the death penalty as a criminal punishment at all.
The Supreme Court already weighed in on a Missouri case, asking for a delay because they were unsure how the drugs used in a lethal injection would affect a prisoner with a medical condition, and whether the procedure could result in cruel and unusual punishment. Now they have stepped in again, this time in Florida, where they have determined that IQ cut offs are too rigid to determine effectively if a person is too mentally disabled to receive the death penalty for a crime. According to the New York Times, the ruling could affect a number of other states that use an IQ test point cut off to determine eligibility for the death penalty, working off a 2002 court ruling that forbids the use of the death penalty on the mentally disabled.
“The death penalty is the gravest sentence our society may impose,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy. “Persons facing that most severe sanction must have a fair opportunity to show that the Constitution prohibits their execution. Florida’s law contravenes our nation’s commitment to dignity and its duty to teach human decency as the mark of a civilized world.”
The Supreme Court may be once more limiting who can receive the death penalty, but when it comes to the execution itself a number of states are still grappling with how to do them, especially with lethal injections being at best unreliable and at worst a slow, agonizing death.
Texas, however, has decided to change nothing, and will even continue to make the source of their injections a secret. The Attorney General, who is also running for governor, has once more refused to answer the questions of the Texas Criminal Department regarding where the drugs are manufactured, ironically stating that providing that information could potentially open the drug provider up to “threats of violence.” If only Greg Abbott took the privacy rights of women seeking abortion services or doctors who provide terminations as seriously as he takes the privacy rights of drug manufacturers.
In the search for more lethal injection drugs, Louisiana has chosen to start looking outside the state for a supplier, but would still keep the source of those drugs a secret, just as it had for the ones they obtained in state. The Attorney General in Missouri, however, has decided that the state’s best way to ensure better lethal injection drugs is to manufacture them itself, cutting out the secrecy factor.
“For Missouri to maintain lethal injection,” Attorney General Chris Koster said, “it is my belief the legislature should remove market-driven participants and pressures from the system and appropriate funds to establish a state-operated, DEA-licensed, laboratory to produce the execution chemicals in our state. As a matter of policy, Missouri should not be reliant on merchants whose identities must be shielded from public view or who can exercise unacceptable leverage over this profound state act.”
States are continuing to look at any means necessary to continue their executions, but the general public is growing more opposed to the practice. As Voice of America reports, Pew polling in the last two years shows that the number of people who “strongly favor” the death penalty has dropped by 10 percent in just two years. Much of that loss of support stems from fear of people being condemned to death who were actually innocent.
“Even if you support the death penalty, you cannot possibly support an innocent person being sent to death as collateral damage to support a broken institution,” activist Kathy Spillman of the Witness to Innocence told Voice of America.
With public support waning, courts implementing delays and new standards and the obtaining or manufacturing of lethal injection drugs becoming a greater hassle, and even the president beginning to intercede, perhaps finally it is the death penalty itself that is on its last legs.
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