Supreme Court Rules on Kentucky Death Penalty Case

In an opinion notable for a diffusion of consenting opinions the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Kentucky’s method of lethal injection did not constitute “cruel and unusual punishment”.

What appears to be the most important part of this ruling is the insight it gives to the individual opinions of justices concerning the death penalty itself. While in the press the high court's acceptance of this case was reported as a threat to the death penalty itself, given the seeming opening to attack of the humaneness of the most widely accepted method of carrying the sentance out, the wide variance of concurring opinions seems to point to a relatively secure death penalty- albeit one hemmed in tightly with an abundance of caution.

In Texas, which has conducted four times as many executions as any other state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1982, Governor Rick Perry pledged to resume executions as soon as possible.

With so much having been written on this issue already I will list a few sources for a wide variety of types of information on the Baze case. The first is a general Baze compendium which is regularly updated to show article on the case.
The text of the various opinions is accessible through the first link on this article.

Next are stories from yesterday's reporting-
Associated Press
Reuters
AFP
NPR print report - Q & A
NPR audio report
Christian Science Monitor
The Docket of Baze to date

Posted by Lee Emmerich Jamison at April 17, 2008 10:35 AM
Comments
Comment #250786

How much money does it cost for one of these lethal injections?
According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the cost for the drugs used in lethal injection is $86.08.

putting someone to death costs millions of dollars in protracted court appeals

The only thing cruel and unusual here is the ridiculous cost of this penalty in terms of court costs.

According to discipline theory, punishment must be consistant and swift, to order to deter unwanted behavior. The death penalty in neither.

Why have it? It like so many other parts of our government system is not doing what it is intended to do, it’s process should be drastically altered or removed, IMO.

Posted by: Jason Ziegler at April 17, 2008 11:15 AM
Comment #250788

Jason Ziegler,
My question to you would be “How much is a human life worth in our judgement?” That’s something victims in Texas and elsewhere have been able to keep before the public eye.

They want to know their loved ones were worth at least as much to society as the people who killed them.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at April 17, 2008 11:40 AM
Comment #250793

How much is a life worth? The victims want to know that their loved ones life is worth as much as the one who took it?

There is no way to quantify the value of a human life. But, since we do our best because we have to, lets see… if i work at Wal-mart and make 6 bucks an hour, 1 hour of my life is worth six bucks.

lets say i live to be 75. my 657000 hours of life is worth roughly 4 million dollars.

Obviously this is ridiculous.

So lets not muddy the water. Someone killed someone you love…nothing will bring back that person. No amount of vengeance will bring them back. The one thing I ask of the DoJ is that this person who killed my loved one never be allowed to inflict that damage on somebody else. How can we do that? Society has come up with three ways..Prison, Rehab, Death.

Lets pick the one that best produces the desired result at a reasonable price.

Posted by: Jason Ziegler at April 17, 2008 1:05 PM
Comment #250796

This has nothing to do with vengance. It is about placing an excruciatingly high value on innocence, something many people seem not to care much for.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at April 17, 2008 1:29 PM
Comment #250798

Jason:

“putting someone to death costs millions of dollars in protracted court appeals”

Your premise is severely flawed. It assumes that once sentenced to life in prison, the offender wipes his brow of nervous sweat, thanks his lucky stars for dodging the death penalty and goes happily on his way. WRONG! The first thing they do is APPEAL. It can be even more costly than death cases for they now have limits on appeals. Some one who is incarcerated for life can literally spend the rest of their lives wreaking havoc on the court system with protracted legal wrangling. All at taxpayer expense and facilitated by the law library now found in most any prison.

“The one thing I ask of the DoJ is that this person who killed my loved one never be allowed to inflict that damage on somebody else. How can we do that? Society has come up with three ways..Prison, Rehab, Death.

Lets pick the one that best produces the desired result at a reasonable price.”

Prison: What is to keep the incarcerated from “inflicting that damage” (strange choice of words) on another inmate or a guard at the prison? This happens more than you may think.

Rehab: See above.

Death: The only sure way to ensure your desired result.

Posted by: Beirut Vet at April 17, 2008 1:34 PM
Comment #250799

Humane enough for a human being, but outlawed in most states as inhumane for putting animals down…this seems to go right along with the approval of torture.

Posted by: Rachel at April 17, 2008 2:27 PM
Comment #250803

Beirut Vet illogically said: “Your premise is severely flawed. It assumes that once sentenced to life in prison, the offender wipes his brow of nervous sweat, thanks his lucky stars for dodging the death penalty and goes happily on his way. WRONG!”

Not wrong for the innocent! The innocent wrongly convicted will wipe their brow that it was not the death sentence, because they can still look forward to having the wrong set right with them alive to enjoy their freedom again. With the thousands and thousands now released from our prisons over the years for having been wrongly convicted and exonerated by DNA testing, your statement above is clearly wrong and illogically constructed.

Posted by: David R. Remer at April 17, 2008 2:46 PM
Comment #250804

Rachel said: “but outlawed in most states as inhumane for putting animals down”

Care to back that up with some evidence, link to researched data, something besides your say so. Our pets go to the Vet, and when their time comes, everyone has been relieved of their suffering by a sequence of injections, first rendering them unconscious, then stopping their heart.

I find your statement incredulous. I once proposed to my Vet that I shoot my cat and save the $75. He rightly pointed out that unless I have a way of insuring my cat doesn’t move, and I know precisely where the brainstem is, my first of what could be several shots could easily fail to kill the cat or even render it unconscious. When I thought about it, I took the cat back, and paid the $75. Immobilizing the cat safely to receive the gun shot is not something my cat would have appreciated. Going to sleep is something my cat made a recreation of.

Anecdotal counter argument, I know. But, I would like to see some factual researched data on how many states prevent injections for pet animal euthanasia.

Posted by: David R. Remer at April 17, 2008 2:53 PM
Comment #250808

David:

“your statement above is clearly wrong and illogically constructed.”

Unfortunately for you, your attempt at obfuscation will not succeed. We are not talking about the innocent, or wrongly convicted here. Anyone would not condone this. The last post was to draw attention to the flawed premise that death cases cost more because of their appeals. No one, least of all me said we should do away with the appeals process, just that it is just as costly for life term, or more than for death cases.

“With the thousands and thousands now released from our prisons over the years for having been wrongly convicted and exonerated by DNA testing, “

True, but not one case can be identified where an innocent man was executed. But once again, you obfuscate because you cannot refute what was posted, so you try to misdirect and make statements that have nothing to do with what was said before you. Maybe your arguments might have a chance if you stayed on topic. But I understand why you do not. You have nothing to work with from the position of the angry leftist whose only game is to rail against everything as if you are the only one with all the correct answers.

Posted by: Beirut Vet at April 17, 2008 3:05 PM
Comment #250813

Rachel,
I have seen nothing in any press report to indicate that the three-drug procedure is outlawed for the euthanization of animals. The NPR report simply states that the plaintiff’s contention was that the single drug used in most euthanasia (a strong barbituate) would be more effective.

I am aware of a number of methods utilized for animal euthanasia, including carbon monoxide poisoning. I seriously doubt the plaintiffs would consider that an acceptable option. It seems most likely the single drug is most often used because it is easily administered and inexpensive.

It also seems likely that, in drug addicted humans, a nominally fatal dose of the single drug could turn out to be inadequate to quickly and humanely end a life. That would not be good for anyone.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at April 17, 2008 4:01 PM
Comment #250816

I find it interesting that in this particular case liberals decry spending money when they otherwise can’t get enough of government spending. Why the difference?

Posted by: Jim M at April 17, 2008 4:10 PM
Comment #250817

Lee:

States that ban lethal injection combo for animals still uses it for humans

Posted by: Rachel at April 17, 2008 4:13 PM
Comment #250821

Rachel,
Excellent post.

In as much as it was an amicus brief it seems likely it was considered at least by the dissenting judges. That brings to mind the argument put forth by Chief Justice Roberts, which was that the current standard was created by legislators out of a concern for humanity in the execution process. It is a more humane standard than those preceding it and is open to even higher standards which, once proven, should prevail.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at April 17, 2008 4:26 PM
Comment #250823

Rachel,
As to your second post- It should be noted that anti-abortion activists often make the same claims about methods used in abortions.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at April 17, 2008 4:29 PM
Comment #250825

Lee…

When does a developing baby feel pain?

One might question why the current social insistence on the so-called morality of inflicting pain in any situation that is not medically necessary…such as torture, etc. Why the “eye for an eye” system of reprisal instead of Jesus’ “turn the other cheek”…why so much fear in the US??

Posted by: Rachel at April 17, 2008 4:46 PM
Comment #250834

If you execute somebody, you can’t take it back if you find out later that something went wrong. Witnesses, Police, Attorneys, Juries, Judges, and the Supreme Court are not perfect.

Sir Walter Ralegh, “the sanctimonious pirate, that went to sea with the Ten Commandments, but scraped one out of the table. ‘Thou shalt not steal’”, suffered the death penalty. These are supposed to have been some of his final words:

“‘I entreat that you will all join with me in prayer to that great God of Heaven whom I have grievously offended, being a man full of all vanity, who has lived a sinful life in such callings as have been most inducing to it; for I have been a soldier, a sailor, and a courtier, which are courses of wickedness and vice. So, I take my leave of you all, making my peace with God.’ ‘I have,’ he said, ‘a long journey to take, and must bid the company farewell.’”

I think they named a city after him somewhere.

Posted by: ohrealy at April 17, 2008 5:43 PM
Comment #250836

Rachel,
If I were a purely exisential theologian it would be rational to believe there is never any cause for doing anything to anyone that could be interpreted as an act of violence. The rest of the people in the world, however, are just as real as I am, which means that there are moments when, for the sake of saving their lives or preventing their injury, or winning or maintaining their freedom one may be faced with a conundrum. If doing harm has a reasonable to overwhelming likelyhood of preventing greater harm is it then rational to do harm?

One can make the theoretical argument that this should never be the case, but such an argument pales badly against comparison to real-world scenarios of experience showing that minimal violent effort early in numerous examples of the advance of such evils as Nazism could have prevented far greater evils later. So little compromise of our ethics as sneaking a look at a computer hard drive in 2001 could have prevented all the evils flowing from the attacks of 9-11.

Jesus wanted a people who were primed to fight a war with overwhelmingly superior forces to turn the other cheek, knowing full well they probably would not and that Rome would leave “no stone standing on another” once provoked. On the other hand, to drive people who were profiting at the expense of the poorest members of society on the Temple grounds he took up a whip and violently drove the money-changers from the Temple.

Jesus knew a strategically good form of non-violence when he saw it, and a strategically necessary form of violence as well.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at April 17, 2008 5:57 PM
Comment #250845

Jesus also said that if you live by the sword you will die by the sword Math.26-52.

Posted by: KAP at April 17, 2008 9:06 PM
Comment #250892

Lee:…When did Jesus ever condone killing anyone???

And, Lee, I don’t know why you have this ” posting thing” feature saying to wait to post…it’s been 24 hours!!

Posted by: Rachel at April 18, 2008 2:48 PM
Comment #250899

Rachel,
Try Luke 17:2- “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.”

Jesus is talking about lesser harm versus greater harm.

I don’t have the posting thing. It does the same thing to me.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at April 18, 2008 3:55 PM
Comment #250933

Lee…again…where does Jesus say murder is good or that a criminal should be executed? He repeatedly pardons and forgives…

Proof texting, in the quote you used, says nothing out of context…

As my grad school scripture professor says, Scripture is like a rubber nose…you can bend it to say anything you want…

Maybe we should just forget the forgiveness and pardons and go back to the violence of the Old Testament???

One would think we could’ve advanced our civilization much further than B.C.E. times…guess not.

Posted by: Rachel at April 18, 2008 10:24 PM
Comment #250936

Jesus never condoned killing anyone, but he did give a list of crimes that are worthy of death in the book of Deuteronomy and He did give government the right to carry out those sentences.

Posted by: KAP at April 18, 2008 10:43 PM
Comment #250937

Genesis 9-6 states “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made he man.”

Posted by: KAP at April 18, 2008 10:47 PM
Comment #250945

Yes Rachel, I noted, GRADUATE scripture professor.
Has your professor noted to you how much more the Old Testament is devoted to consideration of the relationship of God and the PEOPLE, while Jesus concentrates on the relationship of God and YOU.

All through the Old Testament what we are considering is people as a group and the need for a governance, a consideration of law. When Jesus speaks to the issue of laying aside the law (which, as you will recall, he also specifically adjures in a manner that can be quite confusing until you understand his distinction between the people [the nation] and the individual) because the law was made for man and not man for the law he is not rejecting the scripture or the basis of the civilization that was his home (and which was, after all, given by God). Instead he is extending the reach of God’s love to the capacity of the individual to self-govern and self-actualize and become in himself a witness to the grace of God.

What this speaks to is the difference between a body of people like a nation which must make for itself a deeply flawed best approximation of grace and valuation of the good and the innocent, and an individual for which that approximation is irrelevant. If you follow the will of God as an individual deeply in tune to the Almighty, as Jesus was, you will seek the best possible outcome in any situation to the best of your ability to perceive it. You are freed from the law and the expectations of others because our being beholden to the law is rooted in self-preservation and our being beholden to expectations is rooted in fear of rejection. Jesus set aside both the law and the expectations of his disciples- hence the cross.

Rachel, when we discuss the law we are inherently discussing something more akin to Old Testament construction of grace than that of the New Testament, because we are making that best approximation designed to deal with as many people as possible. Christians and others err tremendously when we try to create law for everyone that assumes the perfections Jesus spoke to in addressing you and me as individual souls in a one-on-one relationship with God.

As an example of what I mean, let’s say I’m on an island with one other person and no hope of leaving. That person has sworn to kill me. Should I preemptively kill him first? No. It is pointless to do so. No greater good is gained and the hope of the other’s redemption is lost.

Now let’s assume there are two others on the island and my enemy has sworn to me to harm them as well. Now I said “harm” instead of “kill” on purpose because now I am all that stands between the innocent others and unnecessary harm. Now I am bound to try to prevent the harm by whatever means can succeed. That does not mean I must kill, but it is not impossible that it could include having to do so. The presence of the others, a society, makes the difference. That is the essential equation at work in law, and in all the spiritual flaws of law.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at April 19, 2008 12:40 AM
Comment #250991

Lee: I can’t subscribe to your interpretation of Scripture…

Posted by: Rachel at April 19, 2008 5:17 PM
Comment #251017

But without an explanation of the logical or theological foundations of such inability we are all left hanging…

Scriptural interpretations are not self-evident.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at April 19, 2008 11:19 PM
Comment #251067

What??????

Posted by: Rachel at April 20, 2008 9:36 PM
Comment #251084

Rachel,
What are the reasons you can’t agree on interpretation? I’ve known quite a few Bible professors over the years and they disagreed on everything from the authorship of Matthew to the importance of washing feet.

I’ve made statements about Biblical intent that are based on conceptual differences in the focus of these ancient documents- particularly a contrast between the Old Testament from Genesis through David’s time and the gospels. They are observations of a well informed layperson and not deep academic considerations. I would not be a bit surprised if they were highly debatable.

I don’t have these discussion because I want to beat people. I have them because I love to see people suuport their own views and use all the contents of their conceptual toolboxes to work an issue, to shape a world view.

You’ve shown a willingness to let your knowledge of scripture publicly influence your view of capital punishment. That takes some courage. It is indicative of a willingness to be led by faith into a world often hostile to faith. That also takes courage. To live the courage of those convictions you will not just say Jesus never condoned killing, and your professor said scripture can be made to say anything, and be done with it.

In the long run it does not matter to the rest of the world what you believe if you don’t teach others the foundations of your belief.

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