Published On: Wed, Jul 1st, 2015

Supreme Court affirms right to use drug midazolam in lethal injection executions

The Supreme Court has affirmed the use of a drug that has been implicated in several botched lethal executions, which has now fueled renewed pressure on California to review the use of lethal injections.

The justices voted 5-4 in a case from Oklahoma that the sedative midazolam (mih-DAZZ-oh-lam) can be used in executions without violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The drug was used in executions in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma in 2014 that took longer than usual and raised concerns that the drug was not performing as intended.

Photo/Nodar Kherkheulidze via wikimedia commons

Photo/Nodar Kherkheulidze via wikimedia commons

California has the country’s largest death row and Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said Monday’s ruling would make it more difficult for challengers to block California’s new protocol, which is due in late October.

“It is going to be very, very difficult — probably impossible — for anyone to get a stay” prohibiting the state from using the new method, Scheidegger said. “The decision was a home run.”


Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration agreed to the deadline after Scheidegger’s group sued on behalf of crime victims. Court rulings forced the state to revamp its executions plans, and more than three years have passed since Brown ordered prison officials to create a single-drug protocol.

State law requires extensive public comment on a new execution method, a process that could take a year.

Opponents of the death penalty also might decide to return to the ballot with a measure to replace the death penalty with life without parole. Voters narrowly defeated such a measure in 2012.

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