June 12, 2006
Two Supreme Court decisions may be changing the face of the death penalty. The high court ruled unanimously that an inmate can appeal his lethal injection sentence because it may be cruel and unusual punishment.
"There is no question that in the short run, states are going to have to defend there drug cocktails," said Hofstra University Professor Eric Freedman.
"It will delay some executions and it may well lead to some questions regarding execution procedures that are already in practice," said Stuart Wood with VADP.
Wood with the Charlottesville based Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty thinks the lethal injection ruling is an important decision. However, he believes the second ruling about admitting DNA evidence is even bigger.
"This could open the door to significantly more discussion and a more in-depth look at inmates who claim they are innocent," he said.
The Supreme Court ruled 5 to 3 to allow DNA evidence not heard at a trial to be admitted at a new hearing. This could extend the appeals process by years, a fact that has some death penalty advocates upset.
"Whether we have the death penalty or not seems moot. People are spending all of their natural lives on death row rather than having the sentence complete," said Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
As far as the lethal injection claims go, this decision does not guarantee the inmate a stay of execution. It merely gives them another avenue to make sure if the sentence is carried out, that it will be humane.
There is no telling how these decisions will affect the future Virginia death penalty cases. Virginia has two executions slated for the end of July.