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U.S. Supreme Court Rules For Drug Used In Botched Executions

| by Michael Allen

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 today in favor of lethal injection executions that include a drug, midazolam, that has been used in several botched executions.

Originally, four Oklahoma inmates sued against allowing the use of midazolam in executions.

However, one of those inmates, Charles Warner, was executed in January, noted Fox 43, so only three lived to see their case make it to the High Court.

Midazolam is given by some states to make inmates unconscious before they get their lethal drug dose, but injections of midazolam failed to do so during some executions last year, noted The New York Times.

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Oklahoma and other states use midazolam because companies in Europe and the United States will no longer will sell barbiturates (to make people unconsciousness) for death penalty executions.

The inmates claimed in their lawsuit that because midazolam has not made some people unconscious during their executions, use of the drug violates the Eighth Amendment, which does not allow cruel and unusual punishments.

However, Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion that the responsibility was on the inmates being executed (not the state) for failing to identify a different way of being executed.

Alito also claimed that the inmates, who sued, failed to make a case that using midazolam with a lethal cocktail could result in severe pain.

Mother Jones reports that the inmates who filed the lawsuit "were supported in an amicus brief by 16 pharmacology professors who argued midazolam is 'incapable of inducing unconsciousness.'"

In its defense of using midazolam, the State of Oklahoma used one expert for its case: Dr. Roswell Lee Evans, who admitted he has never actually used midazolam, noted ProPublica.

Despite this lack of experience, Evans testified in 2014 that inmates “would not sense the pain” during an execution if they got a dose of midazolam, reported ProPublica.

Evans reportedly used more than 150 pages (of his 300-page report) from the consumer website Drugs.com, which includes the disclaimer: “[N]ot intended for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.”

Evans is dean of the Harrison School of Pharmacy at Auburn University in Alabama, which tried to distance itself from his involvement in the case back in April.

Auburn University told ProPublica via email that Dr. Evans “was acting in a personal capacity" and that “[t]he opinions he expressed in judicial proceedings are his own, not those of Auburn University,”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in today's dissent: "[U]nder the court’s new rule, it would not matter whether the state intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death or actually burned at the stake."

Sources: The New York Times, Mother Jones, ProPublica, Fox 43
Image Credit: CACorrections