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SCOTUS OK's Florida's Execution Method

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Florida Department of Corrections
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Florida’s lethal injection procedure is constitutional according to a decision out Monday from the U.S. Supreme Court, the final day of decisions for this term.

The Glossip case challenged the use of one drug in the lethal injection procedure in Oklahoma, but Florida is the only other state that uses virtually the same means to execute death row inmates.

 

First, a drug called Midazolam is used to put a prisoner in a “coma-like” sleep. Second, a drug is used to paralyze the person. A third drug is used to stop the heart.

After the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma last year, though, death penalty abolitionists raised concerns that Midazolam does not work reliably enough to prevent a painful death. Death penalty opponents argued that violated the Eighth Amendment.

In a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in an opinion penned by Justice Thomas Alito, there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that Midazlolam is in fact unconstitutionally cruel and usual.

“I think they are reluctant to get involved in which drug is a good drug and which drug is a bad drug,” says Stephen Harper,  supervising attorney in the death penalty clinic at Florida International University.

The Supreme Court was presented with conflicting medical evidence provided by the petitioners and dependents, including testimony from David Lubarsky, chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

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Credit Florida Department of Corrections
Jerry Correll's execution was stayed by the Florida Supreme Court until the U.S. Supreme court ruled on the constitutionality of Midazolam in execution procedures.

Despite the setback for death penalty abolitionists, language in the dissenting opinions suggests the court is ready to tackle the larger issue of the death penalty and its constitutionality.

“I would say hold on because there’s going to be a lot more cases that are going to be filed where that issue is ultimately going to get decided,” predicts Harper.

In anticipation of a ruling by the federal supreme court, the Florida Supreme Court stayed the execution of Jerry Correll in February until the ruling came out. Correll was convicted of five counts of murder, including stabbing his 5-year-old daughter to death in 1985.

Gov. Rick Scott has not signed any new death warrants since Correll’s execution was stayed, leaving 395 people on Florida's death row.

It is not clear yet when executions in Florida will resume.