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Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

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In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

Virginia: Federal judge declines to delay execution over drug controversy

A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Tuesday declined to delay the execution of convicted killer Ricky Gray, which is scheduled to take place January 18. 

Gray's attorneys argued in December that the drugs to be used during the execution were untested and potentially torturous. 

Judge Henry Hudson concluded that "any discomfort experienced by Gray in the execution process is unlikely to cause serious pain or suffering." He also concluded that the possibility of pain was outweighed by the harm done if the execution was delayed. 

Gray's attorney, Lisa Fried, stated that "it is unconstitutional ... to carry out an execution that risk chemically torturing a prisoner to death." No other state has used the mixture of drugs to be used at Gray's execution. 

His attorneys plan to appeal.

Capital punishment remains a controversial issue in the US and worldwide. Last Wednesday the Florida Supreme Court issued a 1-paragraph order informing judges and prosecutors that the state's death penalty procedure is unconstitutional, marking the 2nd such order in 3 months. 

In October the US Supreme Court vacated the death sentence of an Oklahoma man convicted of killing his girlfriend and her 2 children in a case where the trial judge permitted family members to recommend the sentence to the jury. 

In May a Miami judge ruled that Florida's revamped death penalty law is unconstitutional because it does not require a unanimous agreement among jurors to approve executions. 

In April Virginia's General Assembly voted to keep secret the identities of suppliers of lethal injection drugs. 

In 2002 the Supreme Court held in Atkins v. Virginia that the Eighth Amendment's proscription on cruel and unusual punishment makes the execution of individuals with intellectual disability unconstitutional, which was considered in the Moore v. Texas case. 

In November, Oklahoma became the 1st state to have the death penalty explicitly added to their state constitution as legal. According to a report by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), only 5 out of 31 states that have the death penalty held executions in 2016.

Source: jurist.org, January 12, 2017

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