Botched Executions and Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Botched Executions and Cruel and Unusual Punishment .

This past week in Arizona, the execution of Joseph Woods for a 1989 double murder was botched. It took 2 hours for the inmate to die. During that period of time, he was attempting to breathe and gasp but did not die until 1 hour after the procedure began.

The Eighth Amendment is our guarantee against “cruel and unusual punishment.”  The death penalty, if it is administered humanely, is not considered “cruel and unusual” at this time, based on the penalty of death alone. In other words, it is OK with the U.S. Supreme Court for a prisoner to be executed. However, executions have been halted many times if the procedure does not bring about a humane death.

When this issue comes up, as it has several times each year, it is often said “He should die slowly and painfully like the victims did. No one worried about their rights.”

Of course the issue is different since it is the government carrying out the ultimate punishment as punishment, not revenge. The government is not allowed to administer cruel punishment under the Constitution. When someone is executed by lethal injection, someone who has some medical training needs to administer the injections that are intended to kill, not heal. If an M.D. ends up involved in any way, this same M.D. had to take the Hippocratic oath to “First, do no harm…”

Banishment, flogging, the stocks in the town square, castration for sex offenders—are all considered violations of the Eight Amendment. Yet executioners look for a humane, detached way to take the life of a person, in order to comply with the Constitution.

People, of course, are not all wired the same way. In surgery, different people respond differently to the anesthetic. It clearly is the same when the injection is intended to stop a heart from contracting and paralyze the lungs. No two executions can therefore be the same with the same “dosage”.

It certainly costs the state more to execute than to imprison a person for life. Sometimes a person is executed who is not truly guilty. The execution can never be the “eye for an eye” that is sometimes desired by families of the victims. I hope that at some point, it will be obvious that it is simply not possible to “get it right”, and executions will be halted for human rights reasons.

If you or someone you know is accused of a crime, arrested, or contacted by police, contact San Jose criminal defense attorney Maureen Baldwin at (408) 279-4450 to learn your options today!