Georgia Halts Executions Out of Concern for Pentobarbital Quality

Georgia is halting its lethal injection executions for now because of concerns voiced by state officials about the quality of the chemicals available to be used by executioners.

Kelly Gissendaner's Execution Has Been Stayed.

According to the New York Times, lawyers for Kelly Gissendaner have explained that representatives for the State of Georgia stated that the pentobarbital that would have been used in the execution was found to be "cloudy" by a pharmacist expert.  

Note that pentobarbital is NOT a drug being considered by the Supreme Court of the United States in the pending lethal injection cocktail case (read our prior post for details).

_______________________

Here is the full text of the news release issued by the GeorgiGa Department of Corrections:

Homer Bryson, Commissioner

Director of Public Affairs Joan Heath

Contact: Gwendolyn Hogan (478) 992-5247 Hogang00@dcor.state.ga.us

STATE OF GEORGIA

For Immediate Release

Court Ordered Executions Postponed - Kelly Renee Gissendaner and Brian Keith Terrell FORSYTH, Ga. –

The Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) announced today that, out of an abundance of caution, the scheduled executions of Kelly Renee Gissendaner and Brian Keith Terrell, have been postponed while an analysis is conducted of the drugs planned for use in last night's scheduled execution of inmate Gissendaner.

The sentencing courts will issue new execution orders when the Department is prepared to proceed.

The GDC has one of the largest prison systems in the U.S. and is responsible for supervising nearly 55,000 state prisoners and over 160,000 probationers. It is the largest law enforcement agency in the state with approximately 12,000 employees.

American Bar Association Resolutions Re: Death Penalty

 This month, the American Bar Association (ABA) passed without any dissenting delegate votes not one but two resolutions that impact how capital punishment is sentenced and carried out in the United States, particularly Florida.

Image: State of Florida Execution Chamber No. 3
 
 
1.  ABA:  Florida Should Require 100% Unanimous Jury for Death Penalty
 
The first resolution, Resolution 108a, calls for there to be 100% agreement for a death penalty sentence before a jury can approve capital punishment in a case.  
 
Right now,  unanimous juries in capital sentencing may be assumed to be true by lots of people, but there are several states — including Florida — where it’s not required under state law for there to be unanimity before the sentence of death.
 
 
RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges all federal, state, and territorial governments, that impose capital punishment, and the military, to require that:
 
(1) Before a court can impose a sentence of death, a jury must unanimously  recommend or vote to impose that sentence; and

(2) The jury in such cases must also unanimously agree on the existence of any fact that is a prerequisite for eligibility for the death penalty and on the specific aggravating factors that have each been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. 
 

2.  ABA: Florida Should Be Transparent Regarding Lethal Injection Execution Methods  
 
The second resolution passed by the ABA askes for greater transparency in executions, specifically the procedures for lethal injections.  As those who follow the issue of capital punishment, or those who read this blog regularly, are too well aware, the past few years have seen a change in how available certain drugs have become for use by state executioners.  
 
As the scarcity of these chemicals grew, states were forced to make changes in their execution methods, specifically what drugs they used in their lethal injection procedures.  As challenges arose regarding the changes they were making, there was growing secrecy surrounding the various execution methods, officially approved by the powers-that-be.  
 
 
RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges federal, state, and territorial legislative bodies and governmental agencies, including departments of corrections, and the military that impose or implement capital punishment, to:
 
(1) promulgate execution protocols in an open and transparent manner and allow public comment prior to final adoption; and,

(2) require disclosure to the public, to condemned prisoners facing execution, and to courts all relevant information regarding execution procedures, including but not limited to:

a. the steps to be followed in preparation for, during, and after an execution,
b. the qualifications and background of execution team members, and
c. details about any drugs to be used, including the names, manufacturers or
suppliers, doses, expiration date(s), and testing results concerning use of the
drugs.

(3) require that an execution process, including the process of setting IVs, be viewable by media and other witnesses from the moment the condemned prisoner enters the execution chamber until the prisoner is declared dead or the execution is called off;

(4) create and maintain contemporaneous records of what transpires during the execution, including but not limited to the drugs administered, the timing of  administration, and any complications, errors or unanticipated events;
 
(5) disclose the entirety of records and logs on the execution process upon order of the court or as otherwise required in discovery or by law upon request of a death-sentenced prisoner, the prisoner’s counsel, or successors; and,

(6) provide an immediate, thorough, and independent review of any execution where the condemned prisoner struggles or appears to suffer, where the execution is otherwise prolonged, or where the execution deviates from the adopted protocols and regulations concerning the execution process.

 

Death Penalty Is Alive and Well in 2015

It's true that there have been two state governors who recently halted executions in their state, pointing to the pending action by the U.S. Supreme Court.  

Both the governor of the State of Ohio and the governor of Pennsylvania have used their executive power to stop any executions from happening in their two states, at least for the time being.  (Of note, Pennsylvania hasn't executed anyone since 1999.)

And, it's true that the State of Oklahoma has had its executions stayed.  This halt is also due to recent activity before SCOTUS.

However, it's important to recognize that this isn't signaling the halt of capital punishment in this country.  

SCOTUS may have undertaken review of lethal injection as a method of capital punishment when a part of that lethal injection cocktail involves using midazolam, but the Supreme Court hasn't gone so far as to stop the death penalty itself in this country.  

Midazolam is one of the drugs used in the Florida lethal injection procedure.  Florida had an execution scheduled for February 26, 2015, but there was a move to stay that execution based upon the pending case before the Supreme Court.

The Florida Supreme Court granted that motion to stay, filed by Jerry William Correll's counsel, earlier today.

Read the Florida Supreme Court's Order Granting Stay here.

SCOTUS Allowed Two Death Penalty Executions Already This Year

Texas got the green light to execute Robert Ladd last month from SCOTUS.  Georgia also went ahead with the execution of Warren Hill after SCOTUS declined to grant writ in that case.  

States Considering Capital Punishment 

Moreover, capital punishment is being considered as a form of punishment in at least one state right now.   Michigan is considering instituting capital punishment.

States Considering Other Forms of Execution

Other states are considering other ways of execution in case lethal injection proves to be too difficult, constitutionally (or practically, given the limited supply of drugs).  

  1. Wyoming is considering the firing squad.
  2. Utah is considering the firing squad, as well.  
  3. Oklahoma is considering the gas chamber.

It's not over and it looks like SCOTUS is making it clear that we shouldn't misread its granting of writ in the Oklahoma case as being a bigger signal than it is.  

 

 
Image:  San Quentin Execution Chamber

 

New Infographic: Declining Death Penalty in U.S.

 

 

________________________________________________________________

Note: This infographic comes from Daily Kos using data they found at the Death Penalty Information Center web site.

Is Death Penalty by Lethal Injection Unconstitutional?

The Supreme Court has agreed to consider the case of Glossip v. Gross (coming out of Oklahoma) which is a death penalty case that may have national impact on how capital punishment is handled by Florida, Texas, and the rest of the country.

Image: State of Florida Execution Chamber No. 3

In Glossip, the issues presented to the High Court do not involve all lethal injections, or whether this execution method itself is “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the Eight Amendment.

It’s not that broad.

What the U.S. Supreme Court will be deciding is if a lethal injection execution method using midazolam as one of the three drugs involved in a lethal injection execution is “cruel and unusual.”

Still, the fact that the High Court is hearing this issue seems to have a powerful effect: recently, the Governor of Ohio announced that all of Ohio’s executions set for this year (2015) would be stayed given the pending matters before SCOTUS.

Glossip Case

There are three Oklahoma Death Row inmates going before SCOTUS, arguing against the use of midazolam as part of the three-drug lethal injection cocktail used by the State of Oklahoma.

1. You can follow the case on the SCOTUS Docket

2. For a good review of the Glossip case - both its history and the issues being presented to the Justices (oral argument probably in April 2015), check out James Ching’s take on things

3. Here are the Questions Presented to the U.S. Supreme Court in Glossip (writ granted January 23, 2015)(emphasis added):  

In Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35 (2008), the Court held that Kentucky's three­-drug execution protocol was constitutional based on the uncontested fact that "proper administration of the first drug"-which was a "fast-acting barbiturate" that created "a deep, comalike unconsciousness"-will ensure that the prisoner will not experience the known pain of suffering from the administration of the second and third drugs, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride. Id. at 44.

The Baze plurality established a stay standard to prevent unwarranted last­-minute litigation challenging lethal-injection protocols that were substantially similar to the one reviewed in Baze; a stay would not be granted absent a showing of a "demonstrated risk of severe pain" that was "substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives." Id. at 6l.

In this case, Oklahoma intends to execute Petitioners using a three-drug protocol with the same second and third drugs addressed in Baze.

However, the first drug to be administered (midazolam) is not a fast-acting barbiturate; it is a benzodiazepine that has no pain-relieving properties, and there is a well-established scientific consensus that it cannot maintain a deep, comalike unconsciousness.

For these reasons, it is uncontested that midazolam is not approved by the FDA for use as general anesthesia and is never used as the sole anesthetic for painful surgical procedures.

Although Oklahoma admits that administration of the second or third drug to a conscious prisoner would cause intense and needless pain and suffering, it has selected midazolam because of availability rather than to create a more humane execution.

Oklahoma's intention to use midazolam to execute the Petitioners raises the following questions, left unanswered by this Court in Baze:

Question 1: Is it constitutionally permissible for a state to carry out an execution using a three-drug protocol where (a) there is a well-established scientific consensus that the first drug has no pain relieving properties and cannot reliably produce deep, comalike unconsciousness, and (b) it is undisputed that there is a substantial, constitutionally unacceptable risk of pain and suffering from the administration of the second and third drugs when a prisoner is conscious.

Question 2: Does the Baze-plurality stay standard apply when states are not using a protocol substantially similar to the one that this Court considered in Baze?

Question 3: Must a prisoner establish the availability of an alternative drug formula even if the state's lethal-injection protocol, as properly administered, will violate the Eighth Amendment?

Georgia Executes Warren Hill: SCOTUS Allows Execution to Proceed

The State of Georgia executed Warren Hill today, despite arguments that Mr. Hill was intellectually disabled.  Last minute arguments made to the Supreme Court were unsuccessful.  

 

The Supreme Court issued orders today in the Hill case are important to all death penalty defense issues as hints regarding how the High Court will be ruling in future cases involving capital punishment. 

There were only two dissents in the Warren Hill matter. Justices Breyer and Sotomayor would have granted the stay of execution.   

Read the SCOTUS orders here and here

Hill's argument was that the case of Hall v. Florida should apply to his case to find unconstitutional Georgia's law that there only be proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he is so severely intellectually disabled to be executed.  

Interesting point to consider:  Hill was executed by lethal injection.  The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of Glossip v. Gross, where it is argued that lethal injection drug procedures are unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment.

 

Will Georgia Execute Mentally Challenged Warren Hill?

 Regardless of the protections intended by Atkins v. Virginia, executions continue to proceed in this country of Death Row inmates with significant mental challenges.  It’s something that Terry Lenamon is dedicated to fighting as part of his work in defending individuals facing capital punishment in the death penalty phases of their criminal trials.  

Warren Hill

 
Sadly, state governments are still proceeding with executions of people suffering serious mental illness or severe mental disability (which some SCOTUS opinions reference as “mental retardation”).  Consider the Texas case of schizophrenic Scott Panetti  with its eleventh hour fight for a stay of execution last month.  
 
Now, Georgia has set January 27, 2015, as the execution date for Warren Hill,  a man whose intellectual disabilities are not in controversy.  If Hill had been convicted in Florida or Texas, even, he might well not be facing capital punishment because of his mental condition.
 
However, because Atkins allows each state to set up its own procedures for deciding mental conditions that prevent the death penalty under constitutional law as being cruel and unusual, Georgia is moving forward.
 
Hill’s lawyers are seeking a stay based upon the argument that this legal standard is unconstitutional in much the same way as the Supreme Court determined in Hall v. Florida concerning the Florida standard.

Death Penalty Around the World: Infographic

 

Pakistan Death Row Executions Scheduled But 14 Year Old Gets Stay

Pakistan has over 8200 people awaiting execution on the Pakistan Death Row and not all of them are adults.  Terence Lenamon agreed to sign on as a "friend of the court" in an amicus brief that was being presented from U.S. scholars and advocates to the Pakistan government in an attempt to stop the scheduled execution of 14 year old Shafqat Hussein.
 
Shafqat Hussein was tried in their terrorism court for a crime that did not have anything to do with terrorism, and found guilty after a forced confession.  
 
He was scheduled to die on January 9, 2014, but international news reports are that his execution date has been stayed by the Pakistani Interior Minister.  
 
It's safe to assume that efforts like those of Terry Lenamon and others signing that amicus brief and doing other things to spotlight what is happening in Shafqat Hussein's case (among others in Pakistan) has helped to stop Friday's scheduled execution.  
 
Meanwhile, many more on the Pakistan Death Row are facing execution as the government lifted its 6 year six-year moratorium and began an execution schedule late last month.
 
The Pakistan Government has a goal to empty its Death Row -- and reports are that it plans on executing 500 people in the first three months of 2015.
 
Execution method:  hanging
 
 

Happy New Year from Terence Lenamon

 

Tags:

Will Florida Executors Be Revealed? Proposed Law Seeks Their Identity

Up in Tallahassee, there’s a new bill that will be considered in the 2015 session of the Florida House:  if it is passed into law, it will force the State of Florida to reveal the names of those people who act as executioners in Florida death penalty executions.

Right now, no one knows who these people are. This is not traditional, historically.

While there were those black-hooded executioners, the identity of most executioners over time has been known to the public. The man who beheaded Lady Jane Grey, for instance, was not secret (read an eyewitness account of that execution, where her last conversation was with her executioner).

Ditto those who took Marie Antoinette to the French Guillotine (her execution seen in the image below)

 

Florida Bill HB 4003

If HB 4003 is passed, then those who want to do away with capital punishment think that they will be one step closer to ending the death penalty in Florida. Why? Well, for one thing, Florida executes with lethal injection and we would all know the amount of medical training (or lack thereof) of the state executioners.

Remember Oklahoma’s botched lethal injection execution? It’s a big question now in that state — what training or expertise did that executioner have?

Here is the synopsis of the proposed law to reveal the name and identity of Florida executioners (for the full 36 page text of the proposed law go here):

HB 4003 — Death Penalty

Death Penalty: Deletes provisions providing for death penalty for capital felonies; deletes associated provisions, including provisions relating to representation in death penalty cases, capital collateral representation, jurors in capital cases, prohibiting imposition of death sentence on defendant with mental retardation, determination of whether to impose sentence of death or life imprisonment for capital felony or capital drug trafficking felony, issuance of warrant of execution, stay of execution of death sentence, proceedings when person under sentence of death appears to be insane, proceedings when person under sentence of death appears to be pregnant, grounds for death warrant, execution of death sentence, prohibition against reduction of death sentence as result of determination that method of execution is unconstitutional, sentencing orders in capital cases, regulation of execution, transfer to state prison for safekeeping before death warrant issued, return of warrant of execution issued by Governor, sentence of death unexecuted for unjustifiable reasons, & return of warrant of execution issued by Supreme Court.

 

2014 Florida Death Penalty Report by DPIC

The Death Penalty Information Center has published its year-end report regarding the Death Penalty in the United States.  Florida (and Texas) figure prominently in the study.  

Read the full text here, and the New York Times coverage of the DPIC report here.

 

Must Read: Miami Herald's Leonard Pitts' Op-Ed

 Columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for his work, and his column is published twice a week in the Miami Herald.  

Recently, Mr Pitts expressed his opinion on capital punishment in this country in a piece that Terry Lenamon thought should be shared here, for those interested in the death penalty and how it is implemented regarding the mentally ill - specifically, Scott Panetti:

 

 

PANETTI STAY WITHIN HOURS OF EXECUTION

The State of Texas was set to execute Scott Panetti today at six o'clock - but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals just issued a stay of execution - here is the single page issued from the federal appellate court this morning:

 

 

Terry Lenamon deals with the issues of death penalty sentencing and the seeking of capital punishment for those defendants who suffer from mental illness as part of his practice.

Panetti is diagnosed to suffer from schizophrenia.  Should the death penalty apply in his case?

Key to this case is the Texas legal perspective regarding cognition of right vs wrong on the part of the defendant and the federal constitutional prohibition against execution of the mentally ill via the Eighth Amendment protection from cruel and unusual punishment.

Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Currier & Ives: Home to Thanksgiving, 1867 

Tags:
 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...