Death Penalty Information Center Report: the US Death Penalty in 2013

The Death Penalty Information Center has issued its annual report on capital punishment in the United States - and finds that the number of executions fell below 40 for only the 2nd time in almost 20 years (1994). Read the complete report here.

Florida Supreme Court Okays Use of Midazolam Hydrochloride in Death Penalty Lethal Injection Executions

The Florida Supreme Court issued its ruling in the use of midazolam hydrochloride as part of lethal injection executions this week. Read the opinion in its entirety here. From their decision:
We acknowledge that, as we explained in Lightbourne, if the inmate is not fully unconscious when the second and third drugs, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride, are dministered, the inmate will suffer pain. See Lightbourne, 969 So. 2d at 351. However, we agree with the circuit court that Muhammad has not demonstrated that the conditions presenting this risk are "sure or very likely" to cause serious illness or needless suffering and give rise to "sufficiently imminent dangers" under the standard set forth in Baze. Thus, we reject his constitutional challenge to the use of midazolam hydrochloride in the lethal injection procedure.

Florida Death Penalty Documentary: Cameras Allowed On Florida's Death Row

.. A documentary worth your time to watch, here's the description from YouTube: Robert Sullivan (EXECUTED), Dane T. Gafford (Danny Gafford( (INCARCARATED), and Dennis Whitney (DIED A PRISONER) tell their stories about the DEATH PENALTY and is it right or wrong. Filmed in 1980, "On Location: Death Row Florida State Prison", represents the first time ever that cameras were allowed on Death Row. Well known Producer/Director/Cinematographer and editor Ron Jones tells his story of his visit, along with reporter Beth Lawrence, deep inside Florida's Death Row.

Thomas Knight Execution Using Midazolam Hydrochloride: Will It Take Place? Florida Supreme Court Hearing Set for December 18

Last month, the Florida Supreme Court (5-2) ordered that the December 3, 2013, execution of Thomas Knight (aka Askari Abdullah Muhammad) - which had been approved by Florida Governor Rick Scott - be stayed after hearing arguments from defense counsel regarding the proposed use of midazolam hydrochoride as part of the drug cocktail that would be used by the Florida executor in the lethal injection.

The stay was ordered and a hearing was ordered, too.

The Florida Supreme Court ordered that a judge in Bradford County hold an evidentiary hearing on the drug midazolam hydrochloride and whether or not it is safe and effective for use in killing human beings as part of a state execution of capital punishment.

Note that Nathan Knight’s execution would not be the first Florida execution to use this drug; two Florida executions (William Happ; Darius Kimbrough) have already used midazolam hydrochloride in lethal injection executions since October 15, 2013, because the state has run out of pentobarbital - see our earlier posts.

According to the Florida Supreme Court Order, there can be no execution of Thomas Knight until after December 27, 2013 - and after this hearing on the drug has taken place. 

Bradford County Circuit Judge Phyllis Rosier held the hearing as ordered by the Florida Supreme Court.

The hearing took two days, and one expert for each side (prosecution and defense) took the stand to provide opinion evidence regarding whether or not midazolam hydrochloride effectively prevents pain in humans sufficiently for its use in a lethal injection execution. (One of Knight’s arguments: Happ moved in a manner during his lethal injection execution that suggested midazolam hydrochloride might not work to prevent pain.)

Judge Rosier ruled that midazolam hydrochloride in the three drug cocktail used for lethal injection executions by the State of Florida does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment: there was “no credible evidence” to show any suffering would result from the use of this drug if used in sufficient dosage.

What about Happ’s movement? The judge ruled that no evidence was presented to support the argument that the movement was caused by pain or demonstrated suffering on the part of Happ.

What happens now?

The Florida Supreme Court will consider Judge Rosier’s ruling — and will hear arguments in the case next week (on December 18, 2013).  

In the Terry Lenamon Online Library now: 

Florida Supreme Court Stay in Death Row Inmate Thomas Knight's Challenge to Use of Midazolam Hydrochloride...

U.S. Supreme Court Deciding Major Death Penalty Case Regarding Intellectual Ability and Capital Punishment: the Case of Freddie L. Hall

Right now, the U.S. Supreme Court is in the process of reviewing a Florida death penalty case that will impact capital punishment cases all across the United States. The High Court has agreed to review the decision made by the Florida Supreme Court in the case of Freddie L. Hall, a man sentenced to die under Florida law for killing a police officer as well as the rape and murder of a young pregnant woman back in 1978.

Attorneys for Mr. Hall are trying to block the State of Florida from executing him on the grounds that Freddie Hall has insufficient intellectual ability to allow for capital punishment under the Constitution. Their arguments are based upon the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

Read the Florida Supreme Court Opinion here.

Follow the U.S. Supreme Court Docket in Hall v. Florida, No. 12-10882, here.

This is a big deal because the Hall case asks a big question: when is someone so mentally challenged that they should not be executed? (The question presented to the Supreme Court reads: Whether the Florida scheme for identifying mentally retarded defendants in capital cases violates Atkins v. Virginia.)

It’s not the first time that the United States Supreme Court has considered this circumstance, but now the Court may give guidance on where the line should be drawn.  In the landmark Atkins v. Virginia case the Court determined that individuals suffering from mental disabilities (low IQ) could not be executed because it would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.  

Deciding what individuals are so limited as to be barred from capital punishment was not answered in Atkins, however.  

In the Hall case, the Supreme Court will be looking at the manner in which the State of Florida determines someone’s mental impairment and if the methods used by Florida (as well as other states, like Texas) are sufficient constitutionally.

Texas and Florida use similar methods: a 3-prong test where the subject must have demonstrated before the age of 18 years old to have a low IQ as well as impaired mental functioning. Florida, unlike Texas, also draws a line at an IQ of 70 or lower.

Freddie Hall has a record of IQ tests ranging from the mid 60s to 80, hence the appellate challenges made on his behalf since Florida prosecutors have argued that Hall can be executed under current Florida standards.

On November 25, 2013, oral arguments were set in the United States Supreme Court for March 3, 2014.

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