US Supreme Court backs lethal injection executions

April 17th, 2008 - 2:25 am ICT by admin  

Washington, April 17 (DPA) The US Supreme Court Tuesday upheld the right of states to lethally inject prisoners sentenced to death, opening the door for states to resume the practice. There had been a virtual nationwide moratorium on executions since the Supreme Court in September agreed to to hear the case of two inmates in Kentucky who argued lethal injections violated a constitutional clause against “cruel and unusual punishment”.

But the nation’s high court concluded that while use of the death penalty itself might be debatable, the bench could not rule lethal injections violated the Constitution.

“A method of execution violates the Eighth Amendment only if it is deliberately designed to inflict pain,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion of the court’s 7-2 decision.

The two prisoners convicted of murder argued any errors in the administration of the cocktail of lethal poison could cause severe pain during death.

The Supreme Court’s decision was announced just as Pope Benedict XVI was heading for his first visit to the White House.

Benedict is adamantly opposed to the death penalty and has raised his objections during a previous meeting with President George W. Bush, whose state of Texas leads the nation in executions.

During an execution, a prisoner is first injected with a sedative to render the subject unconscious before the deadly and painful substances of pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride follow to paralyse and kill.

The Kentucky inmates argued that a mistake in injecting the sedative sodium thiopental means the prisoner would experience intense pain while dying.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her dissent, said there was no guarantee the prisoner would be adequately immune to pain.

“I would not dispose of the case so swiftly given the character of the risk at stake,” Ginsburg wrote.

The two prisoners did not argue against the death penalty but instead were trying to force the state of Kentucky to change its procedures.

The Supreme Court also heard arguments Wednesday over a state’s right to sentence people to death for child rape. There are currently two people on death row for raping a child without killing their victim.

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