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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 -…

Federal appeals court reverses Ohio's execution delay

Ohio's death chamber
Ohio's death chamber
The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] on Wednesday reversed [opinion, PDF] a previous ruling that Ohio's execution protocol was unconstitutional. 

The prior ruling [JURIST report] had put further executions on hiatus.

The question [AP report] was whether one of the three drugs used in the lethal injection process was sufficient to cause the inmates to lose consciousness before they are able to feel the effects of the other two drugs which stop their hearts. 

The eight judges of the majority wrote that the lower court had not used the Supreme Court's standard that "'the method [of execution] presents a risk that is sure or very likely to cause' serious pain and 'needless suffering[.]'" The majority believed that the executions carried out in Ohio did not meet this standard. Six judges dissented and agreed with the lower court that the executions should be postponed until a better method was found. 

Ohio may now move forward with the executions, but the defense attorney says that he is planning to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The death penalty has been a pressing issue across the country. Last week a federal judge ordered [JURIST report] major changes to Arizona death penalty procedures due to prisoner complaints. 

Also this month the US Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that psychiatric assistance must be provided for indigent defendants sentenced to the death penalty. 

In May the Delaware House of Representatives passed a bill [JURIST report] that would reinstate the death penalty. 

In March Florida governor signed a new bill [JURIST report] declaring that the death penalty may only be imposed by a judge upon unanimous recommendation from the jury. 

In January the US Supreme Court refused [JURIST report] to consider a challenge to Alabama's death penalty system.

Source: JURIST, Elizabeth Lowman, JUne 30, 2017
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