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US Supreme Court to Consider Constitutionality of Lethal Injection


The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to take a case that will determine whether the use of lethal injections to execute criminals violates a constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington.

The Supreme Court term begins next week, and one of the cases the high court has agreed to hear involves appeals from two death row inmates in the state of Kentucky.

The two prisoners sued Kentucky two years ago, claiming the use of lethal injections to administer the death penalty violates constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

Whichever way the Supreme Court rules could have a far-reaching impact on the use of lethal injection to carry out capital punishment sentences in the United States.

Richard Dieter is executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.

"There is going to be a need to hold up executions until there is further clarity," he said. "You would have to err on the side of caution if you are about to execute somebody with lethal injection. This might be a very broad ruling."

Thirty seven of the 50 U.S. states have used the lethal injection method. But at least 11 states have suspended the procedure after critics charged it is ineffective and cruel.

Opponents argue that the three-drug cocktail given to death row inmates at the time of execution can be faulty. They say some prisoners have not been given enough anesthetic during executions, causing them to be in excruciating pain, but restricting their ability to cry out for help.

States began using lethal injection for executions in 1978 as an alternative to more traditional death penalty methods that included electrocution, hanging, shooting, and the gas chamber. Supporters have long argued that lethal injection is more humane.

Since the resumption of the death penalty in 1977, 790 of the 958 executions in the United States have been carried out by lethal injection.

A Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of lethal injection is expected sometime before the court's new term ends in June.

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