Challenging Baze

You knew it was coming. The Court’s ruling in Baze, holding a lethal drug procedure may not pose “a substantial risk of serious harm”, left the door open for inmates to show not all execution procedures are constitutional. SCOTUSblog has this about Virginia death-row inmate Christopher Scott Emmett telling the Supreme Court on Monday that the state follows a “unique and uniquely dangerous” method of execution by lethal injection. Here are highlights:

In opposing a request by the state for the Court to lift an order blocking Emmett’s execution, the inmate’s lawyers called the Virginia protocol “far more dangerous” than the Kentucky version the Supreme Court upheld in Baze v. Rees (07-5439) on April 16. The state argued that the Supreme Court stay should be lifted, so that Virginia could go ahead and set an execution date for Emmett for the murder of a co-worker in Danville, Va., in 2001. Emmett should have to ask lower courts for any further stay, the state contended.

On the merits of Virginia’s lethal injection protocol, Emmett’s counsel cited what they said were two facets that indicate that procedure may fail the constitutional standard the Supreme Court spelled out in Baze :

First, the brief contended, when an inmate in Virginia takes longer than expected to die, prison officials inject more of the second and third drugs in the three-drug sequence (the drugs that paralyze the individual and then cause the heart to stop), but do not inject more of the first drug (the one that causes unconsciousness).

Second, the brief said, the Virginia procedure involves injection of the second and third drugs “within a minute” after the first drug is administered — an insufficient time to assure that the inmate is completely unconscious.