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Supreme Court to Review Legality of Lethal Injection

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The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether the use of lethal injections to execute death row prisoners is constitutional or if it violates the Eight Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments. A report released by Amnesty International today catalogs the instances of painful and inhumane executions using lethal injections. It calls on health professionals to refuse to participate in executions. We speak with Brian Evans of Amnesty’s Program to Abolish the Death Penalty. [includes rush transcript]

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The Supreme Court agreed last week to decide whether the use of lethal injections to execute death row prisoners is constitutional or if it violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments. The challenge was brought on behalf of two death row prisoners in Kentucky who say the three-drug cocktail in the injections cause excruciating pain before death.

The pending case before the Supreme Court has brought an unofficial halt to executions across the country. Although the state of Texas announced its intention to pursue executions, on Tuesday a state appeals court stayed a scheduled execution.

A report released by Amnesty International today catalogs the instances of painful and inhumane executions using lethal injections. It calls on health professionals to refuse to participate in such executions.

AMY GOODMAN: Brian Evans is with Amnesty International USA’s Program to Abolish the Death Penalty, joining us from Washington, D.C. Brian, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about the significance of the Supreme Court taking this case.

BRIAN EVANS: Well, the significance of this case is that 37 of the 38 death penalty states use lethal injection with protocols very similar to the one used in Kentucky, so if the court rules that lethal injection is unconstitutional, all the states that use lethal injection, all 37 states, will have to go back, either radically revise their protocols, devise new methods of execution or just abolish the death penalty altogether.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this issue of the actions of states, pending this decision?

BRIAN EVANS: Well, what seems to be happening is that executions are being stayed pending this decision. There was an execution in Texas the day the court received — or agreed to hear the case, but that was because of a — they didn’t file their appeal on time. And it’s possible there may be some executions of volunteers, people who have given up their appeals. There’s a case in Nevada later this month that might go forward, because William Castillo, the man in question, has declined to appeal his sentence.

AMY GOODMAN: Would they just, if the Supreme Court ruled against lethal injection, just switch to another means of killing?

BRIAN EVANS: I suspect states that use executions a lot would try to do that. I think other states that don’t use execution much or hardly at all might decide that it’s not worth it and go ahead and abolish the death penalty.

AMY GOODMAN: Brian Evans, I want to thank you for being with us, Amnesty International USA’s Program to Abolish the Death Penalty.

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