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High Court Allows Extra Painful Lethal Injection

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

In the recently released opinion, Bucklew v. Precythe, a five to four majority held that a death row inmate could be put to death with a lethal injection despite the fact that medical experts testified that he was likely to die choking on his own blood, in excruciating pain, for several minutes.

Five Supreme Court Justices did not believe that the inmate's Eighth Amendment challenge was proper for several reasons. Meanwhile, the four dissenting judges seemed to be in disbelief over the majority's opinion that eschewed past precedent.

Details on Death Row

The majority opinion explains that Bucklew's appeal failed to provide sufficient evidence to show his alternative method of execution, nitrogen gas, would have been better. Writing for the majority, Justice Gorsuch explained Bucklew's crime was decades old at this point, and that delaying his execution would be further delaying justice for Bucklew's victims.

Justice Gorsuch further explained that one of the state’s reasons for refusing Bucklew’s alternative request for death by nitrogen gas was sufficient: no other state has used it before. The Justice also criticized Bucklew’s failure to provide detailed explanations of how the nitrogen gas execution would be carried out, from how the gas would be mixed, to how much would be administered and even what sort of safety precautions would be used in case gas were to leak out.

The dissent laments the majority's analysis, explaining that the evidence Bucklew presented on nitrogen gas as an alternative was indeed sufficient, particularly as it has been approved in a few different states. Additionally, in a separate dissent, Justice Sotomayor put the majority on blast for putting judicial efficiency over the value of human life.

As quoted by NPR, Justice Sotomayor wrote:

There are higher values than ensuring that executions run on time. If a death sentence or the manner in which it is carried out violates the Constitution, that stain can never come out. Our jurisprudence must remain one of vigilance and care, not one of dismissiveness.

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