Tennessee’s Lethal Injection Ruling Stands

In the fall of 2010, death row inmate Stephen Michael West filed a lawsuit challenging Tennessee’s three-drug lethal injection protocol, arguing that the process is cruel and unusual punishment because the first drug in the cocktail, sodium thiopental, may not cause full unconsciousness before the other drugs, which paralyze the muscles and then stop the heart, are administered. Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman agreed and said the method of execution was unconstitutional because it “allows for death by suffocation while conscious.”

The Department of Correction then changed its protocol for lethal injections which includes a prison official brushing a hand over the prisoner’s eyelashes, saying his or her name, and gently shaking them to check for responsiveness after the first drug is administered before proceeding with the rest of the execution. Chancellor Bonnyman ruled last February that this revised protocol addressed the issues raised by West and does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In April of this year, the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed Bonnyman’s decision.

West and another death row inmate, Billy Ray Irick, appealed this decision, arguing that the state’s new protocol still does not contain sufficient safeguards to ensure that inmates are not awake and in pain during an execution. Unfortunately, this week the Tennessee Supreme Court refused to hear their appeal, allowing executions to proceed in Tennessee. So far, no dates have been set.

(Photo courtesy of PegasusNews)

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