Wednesday, June 11, 2008

On the Docket: Successful Challenge To Ohio's Lethal Injection Protocol

A Lorain County Common Pleas Court judge has ruled that the method of execution currently used by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections violates Ohio law. (Enquirer; NY Times.)

The case, litigated (at least as to this issue) by the ACLU, was handled in a novel way. The challenge to the protocol was brought on behalf of two pre-trial detainees. In other words, this isn't the typical, last-second petition for a stay of execution; instead, it's about two men who might be sentenced to death if they're found guilty.

The court's decision is also unique in that it isn't based in the federal constitution's Eighth Amendment. (In fact, the US Supreme Court recently all but foreclosed challenges to the three-drug method of execution based on the cruel and unusual punishment clause.) Instead, Judge James M. Burge relied on an Ohio statute that requires ODRC to effect an inmate's death by using "a drug or combination of drugs of sufficient dosage to quickly and painlessly cause death." The judge's ruling requires ODRC to use a single, large dose of barbituates to kill the two defendants, if they're found guilty and sentenced to death, rather than the three-drug cocktail currently used by most states that utilize they death penalty.

The ruling only impacts the two individuals who were before Judge Burge, but I'd be surprised if this argument wasn't made in capital cases in Hamilton County.

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