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Oklahoma State Prison Case Analysis

After the brutal 40 minute long lethal injection execution of Clayton Lockett that took place on April 29, 2014 occurred, fellow death row inmates being held at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary sued because they felt that a particular drug that was used to perform the poorly lethal injection was in violation of the eighth amendment. The lethal injection method used on Lockett was a three drug lethal injection procedure and resulted in him waking up after the injection and suffered for more than forty minutes before he actually died.

After this poor done execution, Oklahoma suspended all executions until the horrific incident could be fully and properly investigated. When the investigation was completed, the Oklahoma State Penitentiary adopted a new protocol that placed a much greater emphasis on insuring that any future injections would be properly done. The new protocol used a four drug combination that did not put the remaining death row inmates ease. The remaining death row inmates were bothered by the fact that the initial drug, midazolam, would still remain as the initial drug in the new lethal injection method.

Midazolam was the same initial drug used in the three drug method that was used during the Lockett’s unsuccessful execution. Originally Charles Warner, the leading petitioner, stood alongside with twenty other death row inmates in pressing charges against numerous state officials. Warner and the rest of the death row inmates argued that the repeated use of midazolam as the initial drug in the newly developed execution protocol was in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The death row inmates felt as if the use of midazolam as the initial drug was against their right to the Eighth Amendment’s exclusion of cruel and unusual punishment.

Warner, followed by three other petitioners, moved for a preliminary injunction to avert Oklahoma from resuming on with their executions. The injunction was denied by a federal district court and held that the plaintiffs had failed to provide “sufficient evidence that they would prevail on the merits of their claims and they had failed to identify a ‘known and available’ alternative to the drug question” (Oyez). The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court declined to grant the death row inmate’s petition for a writ of certiorari on January 15, 2015.

This resulted in the in the execution of Chris Warner, who was the leading petitioner. This case come to the Supreme Court because after Warner’s death Richard E. Glossip and the other two death row inmates petitioned the court once again. The legal issue involved in this case was whether or not Oklahoma’s use of midazolam as the initial drug in the new lethal injection execution protocol, which was the same initial drug used in Clayton Lockett’s harsh execution, violates the Eighth Amendment’s exclusion of the use of cruel and unusual punishments (Glossip v. Gross 576 US __ (2015).

On June 29, 2015 the U. S. Supreme Court’s final disposition stated that the Oklahoma State Petitionary decision to use midazolam as the initial drug in the new four drug combination lethal injection execution protocol, which was the same initial drug used in Clayton Lockett’s brutal 40 minute long execution, did not violate the Eighth Amendment’s exclusion of the use of cruel and unusual punishments. The Court’s decision resulted in a 5-4 vote with Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia, Justice Thomas, Justice Kennedy and Justice Alito in the majority vote. Which left Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan in the minority vote.

The opinion that was given by the majority vote was delivered by Justice Samuel A. Alito. The U. S Supreme Court held that the “petitioners have failed to establish a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the use of midazolam violates the Eighth Amendment” (Glossip v. Gross 576 US __ (2015)). The reasoning the Supreme Court gave included: (a) To obtain a preliminary injunction, petitioners must establish, among other things, a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim. See Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. , 555 U. S. 7, 20.

To succeed on an Eighth Amendment method-of execution claim, a prisoner must establish that the method creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain and that the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives. Baze, supra, at 61 (plurality opinion). Pp. 11–13. (b) Petitioners failed to establish that any risk of harm was substantial when compared to a known and available alternative method of execution. Petitioners have suggested that Oklahoma could execute them using sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, but the District Court did not commit a clear error when it found that those drugs are unavailable to the State.

Petitioners argue that the Eighth Amendment does not require them to identify such an alternative, but their argument is inconsistent with the controlling opinion in Baze, which imposed a requirement that the Court now follows. Petitioners also argue that the requirement to identify an alternative is inconsistent with the Court’s pre-Baze decision in Hill v. McDonough, 547 U. S. 573, but they misread that decision. Hill concerned a question of civil procedure, not a substantive Eighth Amendment question. That case held that §1983 alone does not require an inmate asserting a method-of-execution claim to plead an acceptable alternative.

Baze, on the other hand, made clear that the Eighth Amendment requires a prisoner to plead and prove a known and available alternative. Pp. 13–16. (c) The District Court did not commit clear error when it found that midazolam is likely to render a person unable to feel pain associated with administration of the paralytic agent and potassium chloride. Pp. 16–29 (Glossip v. Gross 576 US __ (2015)). The majority opinion was delivered by Justice Alito. In Alito’s opinion he says that there is two reasons why they affirm and accept the midazolam efficacy.

The first reason is the inmates “failed to identify a known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain, a requirement of all Eighth Amendment method-of execution claims” (Glossip v. Gross 576 US __ (2015)). The second reason mentioned by Alito was “the District Court did not commit clear error when it found that the prisoners failed to establish that Oklahoma’s use of a massive dose of midazolam in its execution protocol entails a substantial risk of severe pain” (Glossip v. Gross 576 US __ (2015)). In this Glossip v.

Gross, a dissent written by Justice Breyer and later joined by Justice Ginsburg, made this case more notable. Elizabeth Franklin-Best, a journalist, stated that “the dissent calls for nothing less than full reconsideration of the constitutionality of the death penalty as a punishment, and it offers a veritable road map for challenges going forward” (Franklin-Best). Justice Breyer concluded in his dissent that the death penalty violates the Constitution considering the “given changes in the United States over the last 40 years and drawing on his own 20 years’ experience on the bench. ” (Franklin-Best).

Because the death penalty can be looked at as “unreliable”, Justice Breyer drew the conclusion that this qualifies it as a “cruel” punishment. Justice Breyer believes that the death penalty is “unreliable” because there has been innocent people that have been executed and the numerous exonerations that have occurred. Lastly, Justice Breyer states that the death penalty qualifies as an “unusual” punishment because of the decline in the amount that it is actually used today. In Justice Scalia’s concurring opinion for the majority, he directly responded to Justice Breyer’s “plea for judicial abolition of the death penalty” (Franklin-Best).

Justice Scalia stated that he viewed “Justice Breyer’s argument as both “contradictory and gobbled-gook” (Franklin-Best). Justice Scalia disapproved that “the issues that Breyer noted as rendering the death penalty unconstitutional were infirmities of the Court’s own making, generated by interpreting the Eighth Amendment as empowering the Court to determine “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society” ( Franklin-Best). Many relevant political factors resulted from the decision and reasoning of this case.

When it comes to the death penalty, many people are very uneasy about it. An article by New York Times revealed that the public’s liberal opinion on the issue was very disappointed with the decision that the U. S. Supreme Court came too. Some of the public confessed that they believed that either way killing people is wrong no matter what kind of medication is used to do it. Other opinions made by a large portion of the public admitted that either way that the U. S Supreme Court decided to go with, in the end more people would be more aware of the death penalty itself (Liptak).

In this U. S. Supreme Court case, the petitioners and respondents both had interest groups that appeared as amici. In support of the petitioners, former State Attorneys General served as amici curiae. These former State Attorneys General were responsible for ensuring the execution of criminal laws and punishments. These punishments, like in Oklahoma, include the death penalty. The amici agree that if executions are to take place, it must be done so in a humane manner that is in no way causes any pain or suffering to the inmate being executed.

These former State Attorneys General believe that Oklahoma failed to meet those standards in this case (Sloan and Turberville). Another interest group that served as amicus curiae that was in support of petitioners was the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is a “nonpro? t voluntary professional bar association that works on behalf of criminal defense attorneys to ensure justice and due process for those accused of crime or misconduct” (Bergman). The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers opposes the death penalty no matter what execution method is used.

However, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers recognize that “it is inevitable that individuals convicted of capital crimes will continue to be executed by lethal injection, at least for the time being” (Bergman). They believe that the new four drug protocol that Oklahoma adopted violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments. Therefore, they disagree with the U. S. Supreme Court’s decision and view it as unconstitutional (Bergman). An interest group in support of the respondent was brief amicus curiae of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.

The Criminal Justice Foundation is a “non-profit California corporation organized to participate in litigation relating to the criminal justice system as it affects the public interest” (Scheidegger). Their main goal is to bring the constitutional protection of those that are accused in into “balance with the rights of the victim and of society to rapid, efficient, and reliable determination of guilt and swift execution of punishment” (Scheidegger). They argue that the Eighth Amendment does not authorize “torturous” execution methods but it also does not demand that the execution has to be without pain.

This case did not result in any actions taken by the administration. After analyzing this I would have to say that I strongly agree with the U. S. Supreme Court’s decision. I also completely agree with Justice Alito’s two main reasons that he mentioned in his opinion. If the inmates were as worried as they portrayed about keeping midazolam as the initial drug, then they would have known of an available alternative drug that could be used in place of the midazolam. Therefore, the State of Oklahoma’s choice to continue the use of midazolam as the initial drug, in my opinion, does not violate the Eighth Amendment.

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