The Supreme Court has taken the surprising step of agreeing to determine if lethal injection, the most common method of execution used in the United States today, violates the Eight Amendment ban on Cruel and Unusual Punishment. (The question is about the chemical formula used for the injections.) They agreed to stay the execution of a Texas inmate, Carlton Turner, while they take up the case in their next term which starts Monday, Oct 1. But you know Texas, Death Penalty Capital of the USA. They have decided that they may not wait for the Supreme Court to rule on this particular case while they proceed with other executions, including one scheduled for next week. (Last week, Alabama stayed an execution for 45 days while they try to come up with a new lethal injection formula. I have to say, that's just the kind of "Can Do Spirit" that made America great.) But what impact will this have on the rest of the nation's scheduled executions?
At most, it's likely only to delay the inevitable for death row inmates. The Court is not expected to rule that the death penalty is unconstitutional, but rather that the method used may be cruel and unusual. There was some confusion when the Court failed to stop another "Texa-cution" just days before they issued this stay. Their denial of the appeal was based on technical grounds. Owing to a computer crash, the inmate's appeal failed to reach the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in time by twenty minutes. The Texas court refused to stay open the extra few minutes, and Michael Richard was put to death anyway. (Maybe his lawyers made the mistake of appealing to the court's humanity.) Ohio State University Professor Douglas A. Berman says in his blog that there may be few, if any, executions over the next 9-18 months while the Court deliberates. Lower courts may start staying executions while they wait for the Court's decision on how it would impact them.
For the record, I oppose the use of capital punishment in all cases (even the "worst of the worst"), because of the danger of executing an innocent person and because I do not believe it to be an effective deterrent to crime. Texas is one of those states that really does carry out its executions, rather than let death row inmates die in prison from other causes. (Natural causes, inmate murder, etc.) And I think it can be argued that this is pretty well known in Texas. Yet this does not seem to stop them from killing each other in Texas.