Saturday, December 16, 2006

Opinion: Is the death penalty, as it is currently administered, a violation of constitutional provisions against cruel and unusual punishment?

OCALA, Florida (AP) -- Gov. Jeb Bush suspended executions in Florida after a medical examiner said Friday that prison officials botched the insertion of the needles when a convicted killer was put to death earlier this week.

Separately, a federal judge in California imposed a moratorium on executions in the nation's most populous state, declaring that the state's method of lethal injection runs the risk of violating the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel ruled in San Jose that California's "implementation of lethal injection is broken." But he said: "It can be fixed."

Fogel said the case raised the question of whether a three-drug cocktail administered by the San Quentin State Prison is so painful that it "offends" the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Fogel said he was compelled "to answer that question in the affirmative."

California has been under a capital punishment moratorium since February, when Fogel called off the execution of rapist and murderer Michael Morales amid concerns that condemned inmates might suffer excruciating deaths.

Fogel found substantial evidence that the last six men executed at San Quentin might have been conscious and still breathing when lethal drugs were administered. He ordered anesthesiologists to be on hand, or demanded that a licensed medical professional inject a large, fatal dose of a sedative instead of the additional paralyzing agent and heart-stopping drugs that are normally used. But no medical professional was willing to participate.

In Florida, medical examiner Dr. William Hamilton said Wednesday's execution of Angel Nieves Diaz took 34 minutes -- twice as long as usual -- and required a rare second dose of lethal chemicals because the needles were inserted clear through his veins and into the flesh in his arms. The chemicals are supposed to go into the veins. Hamilton, who performed the autopsy, refused to say whether he thought Diaz died a painful death.

"I am going to defer answers about pain and suffering until the autopsy is complete," he said. He said the results were preliminary and other tests may take several weeks.

Missing a vein when administering the injections would cause "both psychological and physical discomfort -- probably pretty severe," said Dr. J. Kent Garman, an emeritus professor of anesthesia at the Stanford School of Medicine in California. "All the drugs would be much slower to affect the body because they're not going into a blood vessel. They're going under the skin. They take a long time to be absorbed by the body," said Garman. He said he was ethically opposed to lethal injection.

An inmate would remain conscious for a longer period of time and would likely be aware of increased difficulty breathing and pain caused by angina, the interruption of blood flow to the heart, he said. Jonathan Groner, associate professor of surgery at Ohio State University, said the injection would cause excruciating pain "like your arms are on fire."

Bush created a commission to examine the state's lethal injection process in light of Diaz's case, and he halted the signing of any more death warrants until the panel completes its final report by March 1. The governor said he wants to ensure the process does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, as some death penalty foes argued bitterly after Diaz's execution. Florida has 374 people on death row; it has carried out four executions this year.

Diaz, 55, was put to death for murdering the manager of a Miami topless bar during a holdup in 1979. The medical examiner's findings contradicted the explanation given by prison officials, who said Diaz needed the second dose because liver disease caused him to metabolize the lethal drugs more slowly. Hamilton said that although there were records that Diaz had hepatitis, his liver appeared normal. Executions in Florida normally take no more than about 15 minutes, with the inmate rendered unconscious and motionless within three to five minutes. But Diaz appeared to be moving 24 minutes after the first injection, grimacing, blinking, licking his lips, blowing and appearing to mouth words.

As a result of the chemicals going into Diaz's arms around the elbow, he had a 12-inch chemical burn on his right arm and an 11-inch chemical burn on his left arm, Hamilton said. Florida Corrections Secretary James McDonough said the execution team did not see any swelling of the arms, which would have been an indication that the chemicals were going into tissues and not veins. Diaz's attorney, Suzanne Myers Keffler, reacted angrily to the findings. "This is complete negligence on the part of the state," she said. "When he was still moving after the first shot of chemicals, they should have known there was a problem and they shouldn't have continued. This shows a complete disregard for Mr. Diaz. This is disgusting." Earlier, in a court hearing in Ocala, she had won an assurance from the attorney general's office that she could have access to all findings and evidence from the autopsy. She withdrew a request for an independent autopsy.
David Elliot, spokesman for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said experts his group had contacted suspected that liver disease was not the explanation for the problem.
"Florida has certainly deservedly earned a reputation for being a state that conducts botched executions, whether its electrocution or lethal injection," Elliot said. "We just think the Florida death penalty system is broken from start to finish."

Florida got rid of the electric chair after two inmates' heads caught fire during executions in the 1990s and another suffered a severe nosebleed in 2000. Lethal injection was portrayed as a more humane and more reliable process. Twenty people have been executed by injection in Florida since the state switched from the electric chair in 2000. Lethal injection is the preferred execution method in 37 states.

28 comments:

Megan B said...

I think that the death penalty, as it is currently administered, is a violation of the VIII Amendment, primarily because I feel that it is cruel. I don’t think that a form of punishment that has been used for thousands of years could be considered unusual, which is why I find the problem with the part of the VIII Amendment in the section that states “…nor cruel … punishments inflicted.” The question I feel needs to be answered is, what defines a cruel punishment. The dictionary defines cruel as “disposed to or causing pain and suffering.” I think in the examples that we have recently heard about, the method that was used caused pain, although the justice system may not have intended to. But then when I look at this from my own point of view, instead of trying to be impartial, I think maybe to some of the criminals, killing them may be more merciful than making them sit in a prison for the rest of their lives. It would cause pain and suffering everyday to have to remember the horrible things they did to get there. I also tend to think that, if our country’s punishment system uses the same technique to punish the criminals as the criminals used to get into a death penalty situation, does that not make our nation’s justice system criminal too? So in my mind the question boils down to, which is less cruel, since both of the options in our justice system to punish severe crimes; death or life in prison, to some extent do seek to inflict pain and suffering on the criminal. In my opinion the death penalty is cruel, but not to the criminal. I personally feel their opinions do not deserve any value since to be up for this type of punishment, at one point their opinion was that they should be cruel to another person. The death penalty is cruel to the families of the victim(s) of the crime, because death may be more merciful, and at least in my opinion, based on my religious affiliations, the families may never find out the results of the criminal’s final judgment, and life in prison would give the families the knowledge that the criminal is being forced to feel moral and emotional pain, just as they have been forced to. Also if the punishment is between death or life in prison, I think the families of the victim(s) should decide the fate of the criminal.

RaStauss said...

I do not think that the death penalty itself is creul, but i do believe that the way it is administerd is creul. There should be a tried and true way to put criminals to death. Having chemical burns on your arms and dying slowly and painfully is cruel and unsual. I belive that the death penalty should be implimented because murderers should have to pay for what they have done and althought killing them may be more merciful than letting them rot in prision for the rest of their lives, we as a country cannot afford to keep these criminals in prision. So, to answer the questoin, the way the death penalty is being carried out with the innefective leathal injections is creul and unusual, the death penalty however, is not and should be implimented in all 50 states.

KerryW said...

I think that all forms of the death penalty are violations of the 8th Amendment in the sense that it is cruel. Megan is right as to this not being unusual seeing as how pople have been punishing others by death for thousands of years whether it be by hanging,drownings or even being burnt at the stake However, I do find the death penalty as cruel
because whether intentional or not, it does cause discomfort or even excruciating amounts of pain. If we are looking at lethal injection, some people are still conscious when the chemicals are administered. Others like Angel Nieves Diaz take a longer time to die because in his case, due to the fact that someone put the needle in wrong, the chemicals were injected into his skin. Now, this thankfully has never happened to me before but try to imagine it
happening to you.I think that it would most definitly be uncomfortable and most likely painful seeing as how chemicals that are supposed to be killing me are now running aimlessly through my body because some made the needle go all the way through the vain. I would never want to be the person to do that to someone, and frankly, I don't think anyone should be playing God with someone's life on the line. No offense to anyone but you aren't God. Therefore, let the criminals rot in jail for life and be able to ignore this issue of if the death penalty is cruel and unusual
alltogether.

MikeM said...

I don’t believe the death penalty is either cruel or unusual. People die everyday and in the end all people are going to die one way or another so it is certainly not unusual. As for being cruel many ways of putting someone to death are cruel, but the ways we have implemented now are, in my opinion, not cruel. Yes there have been a few instances where something went wrong and the person died after a lot of pain but these occurrences are few and far between. When we put someone to death today we try to do it as fast and painless as possible. In my opinion the most cruel and unusual punishment we implement today is locking up criminals in small cells for the rest of their lives.

tonileep said...

I don't think that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment.In past years the death penalty has been used in cruel and unsual ways, for example, hanging and that I believe is a violation. But I don't believe that injection is cruel and unusual because it takes a matter of seconds for the person to die and that is what we mostly use now. They deserve what they get and they should know that if they committ a murder that they will have consquences. I think it is cruel putting someone in prison for life and it runs through their mind day after day. I don't think the death penalty is cruel.

BrandonSh said...

Any form of capitol punishment always has been, and always will be cruel. Executions are botched all the time, that's probably why the U.S. is the only western nation that still uses them. There is no reason for it. Don't you think that sitting in a tiny white room with nothing but a bed for the rest of your life is a much greater punishment than being put to death and getting off the hook anyway? When inmates are still moving around 24 minutes after painful chemicals are injected, and they have severe chemical burns, there is something wrong. How many more peoples' heads have to burst into flame or lay for nearly a half hour with deadly chemicals in them before we realize how barbaric executions are? It is just more proof that the death penalty is unconstitutional.

Jahir D said...

One may argue weather the death penalty is cruel or not, but what is not up for debadte is weather its unsual or not. The death penalty has ben in use since the dawn of the first civilization and is used in many countries around the world today. Since unusual is comonly defined as "what is out of the ordinary", the death penalty is certainly not. As to the cruelty of the punishment itself, i feel that if it is done properly (and a person is not submitted to excesive pain) it is not cruel at all. It is simplly the cleansing of a social malcrient from out midst.

Mr. Bretzmann said...

May I argue that since almost all industrialized nations currently prohibit the death penalty and that in 2005 about 94% of those executed in the world were executed in China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the United States that it is currently an unusual practice in the world? Isn't it out of the ordinary if, of all the nations in the world, there are about 50 that allow it and four that do almost all of it?

BrandonK said...

In my opinion The death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment. Most of the methods used in the death penalty can easily be defended as cruel (Such as the electric chair which may not always work on the first try, or lethal injection which could cause up to 30 minutes of extreme pain).

BrandonK said...

Going back to what I said... Lethal Injection can take up to 30 minutes (such as the recent Florida case). I believe that if a person is convicted of murder, they should recieve life in prison or another penalty besides death. I see absolutely nothing wrong with putting the prisoners to work (park work, public work etc.) But for me a life sentence means a life sentence. If a person is convicted for life, they serve life.

KimK said...

I do not think the death penalty is cruel or unusual, even as it is currently administered. Since no one is purposefully putting the person dying in a lot of pain, I do not think that a few occurrences of painful experiences are horrible. I believe that we should have the death penalty mainly because it should be cheaper in the long run. If someone stays in jail for the rest of his/her life, our tax-dollars are going to end up paying for him/her. Even though perhaps it is the easy way out for the criminal, I think that most people would rather live than die, and it is, therefore, a good punishment.

justinbel said...

I think that the death penalty is creul and unusual. Like Mr. Bretzmann stated before, most of the executions occur in only four countries, with the United States being one of them. Its obvious that some states think it is cruel and unusual because not all fifty states have the death penalty. I think the U.S. should follow other European nations and get rid of the death penalty.

tonileep said...

I don't think that the death penalty should be considered cruel or unusual punishment. The way that it is adminstered now does not make it unusual nor cruel. Lethal injections are painless and can be over in a matter of minutes. I agree with Kim that the death penalty would be cheaper than life in prison. Also, I think that the criminal may think he can get away with killing someone innocent and that makes me agree with Kim that the death penalty would be a good punishment because he/she would rather live than die. Either way this is a very controversial subject.

Megan B said...

As I stated earlier I believe the death penalty is cruel overall, as it is currently administered, because it cheats the families of the opportunity to be sure the criminal is being punished for what they have done. I would also like to point out that even if I felt these criminals’ opinions and all of their rights should be respected, thirty minutes of pain is really not that long in the grand scheme of things. There are thousands of elderly or very ill people who have wanted to die for years on end, sometimes decades, and do not. They are made to suffer, told they do not have the right to die, since euthanasia is banned in our country. If the time difference between half an hour and a decade is calculated, ten years is 4,380 times greater than a half and hour. I just don't see how half an hour of extreme physical pain, could be worse than decades of similar extreme mental and physical pain.

BrandonSh said...

As Mr. Bretzmann pointed out, the United States is one of the only industrialized nations to use to death penalty. That is saying something when the other three are China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. I'd also like to point out that the death penalty costs millions per inmate because of our legal system. It costs more to kill them than keeping them stuck in a cage for life. As stated in the article for this blog entry, lethal injection is NOT painless and is NOT over in a matter of minutes. People suffer, are in extreme pain, and nothing is done until they are dead. That is cruel and unusual, both of which are prohibited by our Constitution.

MikeM said...

In response to Mr. Bretzmann there are about 250 nations in the world and if 50 nations use the death penalty that is 20% of the world and that doesn’t seem to unusual to me.
Anyway arguing over whether something is unusual or not is difficult because it depends on who you are and how you see things. For example using the metric system may seem unusual to us but to most of the world it is normal. Besides when is the last time the United States has followed the majority of the world, were still holding on to the English system.

justinbel said...

In response to Mike, just because it isn't unusual here that doesn't make it the right, or usual way. Like with the metric system, the rest of the world would think that we are unusual even though we believe we aren't. If 80% of the world opposes the death penalty that makes it an overwhelming majority and it can been seen as unusual throughout most of the world.

Dain said...

I agree with Mr. Bretzman. Among industrialized countries, the US is one of very few nations to use the death penalty, hence it is Unusual. But, this is from a World standpoint. In the US, the use of the death penalty has, historicly, been commonly reconized. It depends on the scope you are arguing. The US courts, however, look at US law instead of french or german law when deciding what constitutes 'unusual'. I do not agree that in our country the use of the death penalty is to be considered 'unusual'.

I will not touch the issue of cruelty.

Personally, I do not support the death penalty.

KimK said...

In response to Brandon Sh: is it really bad for the death penalty to be painful? Maybe it should be. Actually I really don't think it would be all that painful--but few ways of dying are painless. Nevertheless, I agree with Brandon K that a good alternative to death would be putting the prisoners to work. Tax-payers should be happy if prisons become self-sufficient! But then some may argue that forcible work is cruel and unusual--but it is certainly better than death.

Olyvia Moczynski said...

I do not think that the death penalty is a violation of the constitution. It is not cruel or unusual because it has been used for many many years. It is not cruel because if it is done by lethal injection the person dies quickly. If the crime the defendant committed is worth the death penalty then I think it is okay. Also, another aspect that makes it constitutional is that there are separate trials for convicting guilt and sentencing.

brody kraussel said...

I do not beleive the death penalty violates the provisions of the cruel and unusual punishment. If a person takes away another individuals life, why should they get to keep theirs? Although, the way of implimenting the death penalty is somewhat cruel. There has to be some sort of am more humane way of the death penalty then there is already.

Brittany Warnell said...

I believe that the fact that not all states administer the death penalty shows that something is wrong with it. I think that the death penalty is more of a moral issue than of cruel and unusual punishment. I do believe, though, that some of the ways that the death penalty is administered are cruel and unusual, but those have been eradicated.
Prison, I think, is the best way to punish one for the wrong they have committed. Ending someone's life is considered cruel and unusual in the law - murder is illegal. But killing someone with lethal injection is not? So yes, I believe that in a way, the death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment, even if it may be better than life in prison.

Marshall Angst said...

As it is administered now, as in lethal injection, yes. There are many complications that can arise with it and knowing this and continueing to use it would fall under cruel and unusual punishment. However it seems to be the most humane and least gruseme of all current forms of lethal injection. This brings up the argument, why even have capital punishment. While all life is precious when a human being is so dark inside that they can end another s life, do they deserve to live? This is an opinion that has been argued for years. It is my belief that the death penalty will never totaly go away & that it is an issue that will continue to be debated.

Marshall Angst said...

http://civilliberty.about.com/od/capitalpunishment/ig/Types-of-Executions/Lethal-Injections.htm

Keely Smith said...

I personally believe that the death penalty is a violation of the 8th Amendment. I feel this way because I believe that is a cruel punishment; however, I do not believe that is in unusual because it has been used for such a long time that it has been seen before. The method used for the death penalty causes pain, which is cruel. Even though criminals are wrong in breaking the law and doing the things they do, I do not believe they should die because of it. In my opinion, sitting in jail for the rest of their life is worse then being put to death, because when you die, you die, and that's it. Sitting in jail for the rest of your life does not sound enjoyable to me whatsoever, and I think that this is what some criminals should have to do.

Kelli Kontney said...

The death penalty, as it is currently administered, is not cruel and unusual punishment. When an offender kills a person and is given the death penalty, it is not cruel for them to receive the same punishment as their victim. Also, there is no clause in the Constitution that prohibits the death penalty, so it should not be considered cruel and unusual.

Justin Latawiec said...

I think the death penalty is not a violation of constitutional provisions against cruel and unusual punishment. The death penalty is not cruel. It is a consequence that should scare people into not breaking laws like killing other for example. The death penalty also is not unusual. It has been around for a long time. I think it is a very beneficial penalty because not only does it open space in prisons, but it also saves tax dollars that are used for housing, food, medical, and other funds that inmates have.

abigail wallace said...

I do not believe that the death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment. If one is going to die from a cruel and usual punishment he/she must have killed another person's life. Isn't that only fair? Treat others how you want to be treated? Some people should maybe only be in prison but if you intentionally killed someone because you felt the need too you should be killed too.