SCOTUS Rules in Favor of Georgia Death Row Inmate’s Request to Die By Firing Squad

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Prison death row - Sputnik International, 1920, 24.06.2022
The inmate claimed in his case that his long-term prescription back pain medication may prevent the sedative drug used in the lethal injection from functioning effectively. The convict was given the death penalty in 2002 for fatally shooting a bystander during a bank robbery.
The US Supreme Court on Thursday ruled 5-4 in favor of a death row convict from Georgia who was attempting to switch his execution method from lethal injection to death by firing squad.
According to the published document, the procedural questions raised by the case centered on the argument made by prisoner Michael Nance that receiving a lethal injection would be contrary to the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Justice Elena Kagan wrote the majority opinion in favor, saying that Section 1983 of the relevant law "broadly authorizes suit against state officials for the deprivation of any rights secured by the Constitution."
"Read literally," she said, "that language would apply to all of a prisoner's constitutional claims."
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch joined in writing a dissent with Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Barrett responded in the dissent that the imprisoned criminal can use the section of the law "to challenge many, if not most, aspects of prison administration."
"But when a challenge would prevent a State from enforcing a conviction or sentence, the more rigorous, federalism-protective requirements of habeas apply," she stated.
Nance stated in the case that his "severely compromised" veins would "blow," allowing "the leakage of the lethal injection drug into the surrounding tissue" and result in "intense pain and burning." Nance has chosen to be killed by firing squad, which is now legally unavailable in Georgia. Only four states in the country have approved the use of execution by firing squad.
The question for the court was whether Nance had brought the right kind of litigation to seek justice for his constitutional claim. For that, in her opinion piece, Kagan stated that Nance's complaint followed the rules of procedure, allowing him to ask for an execution method that Georgia law does not currently permit.
"A prisoner must identify a readily available alternative method of execution that would significantly reduce the risk of severe pain. In doing so, the prisoner is not confined to proposing a method authorized by the executing State’s law; he may instead ask for a method used in other States," the justice wrote.
Nance is now able to carry on with his legal action in the lower courts thanks to the opinion, which overturned a federal appeals court decision. According to a CNN report, the judgment, citing the convict's attorney Matthew Hellman, allows him "a pathway to seek a humane and lawful execution."

Lethal Injection Doesn't Always End Life Painlessly

In addition to the ethical and legal debate surrounding how high-risk criminals are put to death, there have been several controversial cases of drug-mixed executions in recent history, as the 3-component serum used during the execution does not always give the desired result, causing unwanted suffering to inmates, and largely due to the lack of one of the drugs used during the procedure to minimize pain.
SCOTUS has held several hearings in recent years on the constitutionality of drug cocktail executions amid cases of lethal injections gone wrong, each time affirming the legality of the procedure as currently implemented.
For instance, in 2015, following three botched executions in the previous year, the justices considered the lethal injection issue for the second time in just seven years. The Supreme Court ruled the drug legal for use in executions.
The first state to carry out lethal injection executions of criminals was Oklahoma. Every other state with the death penalty quickly adopted the three-drug cocktail it created and deployed for the first time in 1977. It was seen to be the most compassionate method of execution.
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The first of three medications in the original concoction was sodium thiopental, which was used to put the prisoner in a deep, coma-like state. The second drug in the cocktail was meant to paralyze the inmate, with the third to stop their heart. The Supreme Court upheld the legality of the procedure in 2008, when justices concluded that sodium thiopental effectively blocked out the pain induced by the second and third drugs.
However, since that time, it has been harder and harder to get the medicine that was being used to render the prisoners unconscious, partly because of the public pressure on manufacturers from death penalty opponents.
In order to put someone into a deep, coma-like state, the majority of death penalty states now use midazolam, a medicine that received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration only very recently - in 2019.
Despite the fact that midazolam does not always succeed in putting the convict to sleep, states have not changed their protocols and continue to use it despite the protests of the condemned themselves, simply because the previously used drug for sedation during lethal injection has become extremely difficult to obtain.
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Finding pharmacy compounders to create the required medicine from scratch has helped some states, including Texas, at least partially overcome the drug shortage. Other states have reportedly discovered a way to obtain enough pentobarbital to completely incapacitate inmates.
In fact, Oklahoma was working toward allowing the use of nitrogen gas for the gas chamber, but eventually decided to return to lethal injections in 2020, and Utah has approved a law making the firing squad its backup method of execution, while Tennessee's method is electrocution.
Just earlier this month, a US federal judge approved the use of a three-drug lethal injection method against death row convicts in the state of Oklahoma.
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