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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 -…

Tennessee Supreme Court upholds death penalty

As of January 2017, there were 63 inmates on death row in Tennessee. Executions have been on hold pending a challenge by inmates to the single-dose drug protocol.

The Tennessee Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the state's lethal injection protocols, potentially allowing executions to resume in the state.

The unanimous opinion, written by Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins, says death row inmates bringing the challenge failed to show that the protocol violates constitutional provisions against cruel and unusual punishment.

The justices have been weighing the case since hearing arguments in October.

Executions in Tennessee have been stayed while the legal challenge was pending. The last execution in the state was in 2009. The ruling from the Tennessee Supreme Court, however, may lead to those executions being scheduled again.

More than 30 condemned inmates were involved in the case that alleged Tennessee's single-drug lethal injection protocol was unconstitutional. The procedure calls for the use of compounded pentobarbital. 

The inmates have also argued that Tennessee Department of Correction training was lax and created risk of botched executions.

Lawyers for the inmates argued that they were not required to provide a better alternative to lethal injection and said the protocol created risk of lingering death.

Kelley Henry, a member of the legal team representing the inmates and a supervisory assistant federal public defender in Nashville, promised an appeal. 

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to hear it.

"Tennessee stands alone in requiring a contract with a pharmacist who must agree to violate state and federal drug laws in order to comply with the protocol," she said. "We will be seeking review of this novel protocol in the United States Supreme Court.

Source: The Tennessean, Stacey Barchenger, March 29, 2017

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