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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Judge's execution ruling leaves Arizona at crossroads in death penalty debate

Arizona will not be killing anyone by lethal injection anytime soon.

This comes as a result of 3 things:

1. A recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Neil Wake keeping all executions in Arizona on hold for an unspecified amount of time.

2. Pfizer, a pharmaceutical giant, recently announcing it would no longer supply prisons with 7 drugs used to impose the death penalty, including 1 used by Arizona, midazolam.

3. The fact that Arizona's supply of midazolam is set to expire on May 31.

Arizona's current protocol in executions calls for midazolam. This was used on July 23, 2014 when Arizona executed Joseph Wood - Arizona's last execution to date - which did not turn out as expected.

As a result of this "botched execution" (as many have termed it), a federal lawsuit was filed by 7 death row inmates and the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona demanding the state stop using the questionable drug cocktail and more transparency in the execution process.

As part of that lawsuit, Wake issued a moratorium on executions until investigations into the Wood execution could be completed.

Earlier this year, those investigations were completed and Wake ordered the lawsuit go forward.

Shortly after that ruling, Arizona requested Wake allow executions to go forward since its supply of midazolam was approaching its expiration date and that state has no way to replace that supply since manufacturers don't want their products used in executions. Not persuaded, Wake ruled Wednesday that the ban on executions will remain in place.

What is next for Arizona? Will the wild, wild west start using the firing squad? Not likely.

If Arizona wants to continue executing prisoners, I see a few options:

-- Return to the use of lethal gas (which carries its own difficulties)

-- Create a new protocol with a new drug combination, (which is costly and time-consuming)

-- Ask the Legislature and/or voters to approve a different technique to carry out executions (costly, time-consuming and not really practical)

The state could also move to get rid of the death penalty, which would be the easiest option, but would be costly and time-consuming process [How so? - DPN].

Regardless of which road Arizona chooses to head down, it will have to dedicate a fair amount of money and time to resolve this seemingly never-ending battle between those that believe in the death penalty and those that are opposed to it.

Source: Monica Lindstrom, KTAR news, May 20, 2016

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