Over the last three months, six executions in the United States have been stayed or rescheduled because of constitutional issues regarding the method of execution or who can be present in the death chamber, according to Reuters.
At the helm of this controversy is the state of Alabama, according to recent articles featured in Reuters and Mother Jones.
Christopher Price was scheduled to be executed at the beginning of April. Price filed an appeal when he found out that he was to be lethally injected. He wants to die by lethal gas. The lower courts granted him a 60-day stay of execution. The state of Alabama appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
After some last minute arguing, the court decided 5-4 along ideological lines, with a conservative majority voting to proceed with the execution. The decision, which was issued at 3 a.m., was too late. The death warrant had expired. Alabama will have to set a new execution date.
The Alabama ruling comes at a time when the justices have been clashing over capital punishment. Conservative justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that an eleventh-hour stay of execution should be an “extreme exception.” It appears that the case of Christopher Price did not rise to that standard. The issue for the state of Alabama was the timing.
The state contends that Price and his lawyers had ample time to alert the state and let them know how Price wanted to be executed.
The liberal side of the high court maintained that the hasty decision made in the middle of the night undermined the criminal justice system. Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the liberal justices, called the litigation an example of arbitrary administration of the death penalty. He wrote that Price’s claim failed because of a minor oversight by his lawyer when filing evidence to support his argument.
“To proceed in this way calls into question the basic principles of fairness that should underlie our criminal justice system,” Breyer wrote.
Price, who was convicted of killing a minister, has no objection to dying. He con- tends that the three-drug protocol would cause him severe pain, and that nitrogen hypoxia would reduce that risk.
In a similar case, Russell Bucklew, a convicted murderer, sought to die by lethal gas. He has a rare medical condition that he claims could make his execution by lethal injection “gruesome.” He requested that the execution be delayed 60 days so he could proceed with his request to be executed by lethal gas. The Supreme Court, however, was not persuaded. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the Constitution does not guarantee a condemned prisoner “a painless death.”