Criminal Attorney Oklahoma Defense Lawyer Adam R. Banner OKLAHOMA CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY AT LAW

The Oklahoma Legal Group Blog

U.S. Supreme Court Rules on Oklahoma Death Penalty

Adam Banner - Thursday, July 02, 2015

On June 29, 2015, the United States Supreme Court issued the opinion in the Oklahoma death penalty case Glossip v. Gross. In the majority opinion, SCOTUS once again affirmed the constitutionality of the death penalty. While some see the decision as a potential "light at the the end of the tunnel," I feel as though the High Court has upheld a bar that will be exceedingly difficult to achieve in future challenges to the methods and means of executing inmates in the United States of America.

Are Current Execution Methods Too Painful

I discussed the decision in my article for the Huffington Post in more detail, so feel free to head over there to get a more in-depth take on the issues. At the end of the day, the majority of the Supreme Court Justices agreed that the inmates in Glossip failed to meet the threshold burden of proving that the chemical cocktail used in Oklahoma lethal injections presented any risk of harm which is substantial in comparison to other known and available alternative methods for execution. 

It is an impossible burden, really. There is no quantifiable way to collect data for determining if another method is more or less painful; no one gets to write a personal review or gauge the pain they felt after the deed is done. Trying to find a less painful alternative would necessarily require reliance on the objective opinions of others -- folks who were only there to see the killing -- and not the subjective data of inmates who actually experienced the execution and felt the harm or risk thereof.

My somewhat cynical position is supported by the fact that the majority opinion once again established that the death penalty in the United States is always going to be subject to some form of painful and possibly problematic results. As Justice Alito noted, the death penalty isn't meant to be completely painless, nor is there any such constitutional requirement under the Eight Amendment.

Use of Death Penalty Shall Continue

Sadly, I do not see the positive side to the opinion which many anti-death-penalty advocates espouse. Sure, Justices Breyer and Ginsburg, in their dissent, proclaimed that we may have finally reached a place as a society in which our culture can legitimately proclaim that the death penalty is unconstitutional. Still, as evidenced by the majority's 5-4 ruling upholding Oklahoma's use of midazolam in lethal injection executions, the High Court is still one Justice shy of making any ground in favor of re-evaluating, or even abolishing, the death penalty in America.

Regardless, the polarity of the death penalty will continue to divide our country, and our country's highest Court, until the perfect storm arrives on the Supreme Court's docket. Until then, we will likely see death-penalty states continue their current history of human experimentation as the methods they previously relied on become obsolete. As a law firm that specializes in defending those charged with crimes, I find this to be very concerning (and very embarrassing) for my home state.  

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