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December 15, 2006
Two States Suspend Executions

California and Florida suspended executions today after controversy erupted from a botched lethal injection earlier this week. While the officials who implemented the moratoria in each state said the stoppage should be temporary, it might create pressure to rethink executions in both states:

Gov. Jeb Bush suspended all executions in Florida after a medical examiner said Friday that prison officials botched the insertion of the needles when a convicted killer was put to death earlier this week.

Separately, a federal judge in California extended a moratorium on executions in the nation's most populous state, declaring that the state's method of lethal injection violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel ruled in San Jose that California's "implementation of lethal injection is broken, but it can be fixed."

In Florida, medical examiner Dr. William Hamilton said Wednesday's execution of Angel Nieves Diaz took 34 minutes _ twice as long as usual _ and required a rare second dose of lethal chemicals because the needles were inserted clear through his veins and into the flesh in his arms. The chemicals are supposed to go into the veins. ...

The governor said he wants to ensure the process does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, as some death penalty foes argued bitterly after Diaz's execution. Florida has 374 people on death row; it has carried out four executions this year.

Most people saw this coming, although having Jeb Bush issue the order in Florida does surprise me. Bush apparently wanted to take the heat for Charlie Crist before the new governor takes office, and it's the right call. The execution of Diaz once again creates doubt about Florida's ability to properly conduct executions, and they need to demonstrate that they can avoid the errors they made with the injections, or else this method will go the way of Old Sparky after it set its execution target on fire.

The California situation has different issues. In this case, the judge believes that the proper execution of the lethal injection still causes undue pain and suffering in its target. It will be hard to prove any new process does not have the same problem since the proper use of the process leaves its subject dead. The judge says that the procedure does not necessarily have to end, but he's set up a tough threshold to clear.

As well he should. Long-time CQ readers know that I oppose the death penalty for a number of reasons; it doesn't get applied equally, DNA evidence has proven some of those condemned innocent, and the long periods between sentencing and execution (especially in California) expose the entire process as a sham. Mostly, the government should only take life when imminent danger to innocent life exists, and that clearly is not the case when the government has the convict in custody for over 20 years at a time.

In truth, the more rational and clear path is to sentence the convicts to life imprisonment without parole. It removes all of the death-row notoriety from the convicts and forces them to live out their natural lives as anonymous drones in a cage. It provides closure at a much earlier date, and it keeps scum like Mumia Abu Jamal and Stanley "Tookie" Williams from getting lionized by death-penalty protestors.

In Florida, the death penalty has too much popular support to disappear, at least for now. California citizens might take advantage of this opportunity to rethink their use of executions. (via elrod at TMV)

UPDATE: Lew asks a good question in the comments:

[H]ow is it possible for a lone justice, wrapped in his robes and perched in spendid solitude above the fray, to decide that ANTHING is cruel and unusual. This would seem the penultimate case of isolated elitism, looking down its nose with condescending contempt at the common folk and preaching its own gospel. In fact, no lone person can ever determine what "usual" means, much less a lone person even more isolated by virtue of his being a judge.

Well, the problem with that argument is that the restriction against "cruel and unusual punishment" gets explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, specifically Amendment 8 in the Bill of Rights. Even a supporter of judicial modesty, a strict constructionist would allow that the courts have jurisdiction to determine that question based on the explicit text of the document.

But for me, it's not about the Eighth Amendment. I just think that the death penalty is a mistake, even if it passes Constitutional muster, which I believe it does.

UPDATE II: Is DNA exoneration of death-row inmates a "canard", as SonnyJim claims in the comments? No:

Earl Washington: Sentenced to death in 1984 for rape and murder in Virginia after the police got a confession from him. DNA proved him innocent of the charge in 1993, but because of evidentiary laws in Virginia, it took seven more years for him to be freed.

Robert Miller: Convicted in 1988 of murder and rape; DNA testing proved another man had done the crime, and Miller was released after nine years.

Frank Lee Smith: Convicted in Florida of murder and rape in 1986, Smith was finally exonerated in 2000 by DNA testing that proved another convict had done the crime. Unfortunately for Smith, he had died in prison a few months before being exonerated.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 15, 2006 8:09 PM

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» Florida and California Put Death Penalty on Hold from The American Mind
Florida and California have both suspended the death penalty while officials fix problems with how its currently implemented. In Florida a 15-20 minute execution turned into 34 when the criminal was given a second lethal injection. In California a fede... [Read More]

Tracked on December 15, 2006 10:48 PM

» Executions Suspended in Florida & California from Bird of Paradise
It seems that the malingering death of Angel Nieves Diaz while being executed in Florida earlier this week has resulted in the suspension of executions scheduled in California as well as in Florida. [Read More]

Tracked on December 16, 2006 2:56 PM


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