Death penalty: US Supreme Court debates the wrong issue
Your intrepid blogger is long known for her stand on the death penalty.
The US Supreme Court will be hearing petitions on two "issues" involved this term, but not the big one ..
IS the death penalty a cruel and unusual punishment? Most nations think so.
BAZE V. REES, No. 07-5439
In a case with broad national implications, the Court agreed on Sept. 25, 2007, to consider the constitutionality of lethal injections as practiced in Kentucky. The Justices will hear a challenge filed by two death row inmates, Ralph Baze and Thomas Clyde Bowling, Jr. The two men sued Kentucky in 2004 claiming that the state's lethal injection process amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, noting that the procedure can inflict unnecessary pain and suffering on the inmate. The Kentucky Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the state's lethal injection system. In a previous ruling (Hill v. McDonough (2006)), the U.S. Supreme Court allowed death row inmates to contest the lethal injection process by filing civil suits separate from an inmate's appeal. The Court has ordered that final briefs be filed by Dec. 28, 2007. (Associated Press, September 25, 2007).
I. Does the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibit means for
carrying out a method of execution that create an unnecessary risk of pain and suffering
as opposed to only a substantial risk of the wanton infliction of pain?
II. Do the means for carrying out an execution cause an unnecessary risk of pain and
suffering in violation of the Eighth Amendment upon a showing that readily available
alternatives that pose less risk of pain and suffering could be used?
III. Does the continued use of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassiumchloride, individually or together, violate the cruel and unusual punishment clause of theEighth Amendment because lethal injections can be carried out by using other chemicalsthat pose less risk of pain and suffering?
IV. When it is known that the effects of the chemicals could be reversed if the proper actions
are taken, does substantive due process require a state to be prepared to maintain life in
case a stay of execution is granted after the lethal injection chemicals are injected?
See Lethal Injections. Read Baze's petition for certiorari.
SNYDER V. LOUISIANA, No. 06-10119 On June 25, 2007, the Court agreed to review a capital case from Louisiana in which an all-white jury sentenced a defendant to death after the prosecutor urged a death sentence so that the defendant would not "get away with it" like O.J. Simpson. All five qualified African-Americans had been struck from the jury pool by the prosecution using peremptory challenges. The defense has challenged the selection of the jury as a violation of equal protection. The defendant, Allen Snyder, is black and was convicted of killing his wife's male companion in a trial that occurred within a year of the O.J. Simpson acquittal. Jelpi Picou, executive director of the the Capital Appeals Project of Louisianawhich is representing Mr. Snyder, said that, “Both a majority of the Louisiana Supreme Court and the State have denied that these statements demonstrated racially discriminatory intent” noted Mr. Picou, “because the prosecutor did not state the self-evident: that Mr. Snyder and Mr. Simpson are black. Given that Mr. Snyder’s trial took place less than a year after O.J. Simpson’s acquittal, it is difficult to imagine that the members of Mr. Snyder’s jury would not have been aware of the racially divisive nature of that case.” The Louisiana Supreme Court upheld Snyder's conviction and death sentence, holding that no impermissible use of race had been shown. The case is Snyder v. Louisiana, No. 06-10119, and it will likely be heard by Court in the fall. (Press Release, Capital Appeals Project, June 25, 2007). Read the Press Release. See also Race.
MEDELLIN V. TEXAS, No 06-984
To be argued on Oct. 10, 2007
On April 30, 2007, the Court agreed to hear the case of Medellin v. Texas. Jose Medellin is a Mexican citizen on Texas' death row who filed suit in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) because he had not been afforded his rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. He and 50 other Mexican nationals won their suit in the ICJ, which ordered U.S. courts to review the cases (Avena). Texas refused to review Medellin's case and he petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for relief, and it agreed to hear his case. Before the case could be decided, however, President Bush ordered the respective state courts to provide the review required by the ICJ. The Supreme Court then dismissed Medellin's case to allow time for this review. Texas courts again refused to grant such a review, claiming that President Bush did not have the power to give such an order. Medellin again appealed to the Supreme Court, which granted certiorari on the following questions:
1. Did the President of the United States act within his constitutional and statutory foreign affairs authority when he determined that the states must comply with the United States' treaty obligation to give effect to the Avena judgment in the cases of the 51 Mexican nationals named in the judgment?
2. Are state courts bound by the Constitution to honor the undisputed international obligation of the United States, under treaties duly ratified by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, to give effect to the Avena judgment in the cases that the judgment addressed?
The U.S. government filed a brief with the Court urging it to take Medellin's case. (Medellin v. Texas, No. 06-984; see N.Y. Times, May 1, 2007). See Foreign Nationals.
DOCUMENTARY: "After Innocence" Tells the Stories of the Wrongfully Convicted Following Their ReleaseA new documentary, "After Innocence," by Jessica Sanders and Marc Simon, is opening in cities around the country. This award-winning film (Sundance and other film festivals) tells the stories of wrongfully convicted defendants who were exonerated through DNA evidence, and about what happens to them after their release as they attempt to rebuild their lives. The film opens in Washington, D.C. at the Landmark's E St. Cinema, 555 11th St. NW, on Friday, Nov. 4. A discussion will follow the film and bulk discounts are available. For information about showings elsewhere, see http://www.afterinnocence.com/.
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