The Supreme Court is reviewing lethal injection for the first time in seven years. Here’s what it means for the death penalty.
Last week, the Supreme Court put three executions in Oklahoma on hold as it reviews the constitutionality of the state's death penalty protocol.
If the nation's top court strikes down Oklahoma's lethal injection procedure, what would it mean for the death penalty? We've asked the experts what you need to know.
What exactly is the Supreme Court reviewing?
The court is assessing Oklahoma's use of the drug midazolam, a sedative used in its three-drug lethal injection protocol. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, five states have used midazolam for their executions, and at least five other states have proposed using it.
In the wake of several botched executions in 2014 involving the drug, a group of death row inmates in Oklahoma filed a petition challenging the efficacy of midazolam to mitigate pain, which they claim would render the state's executions in violation of the Eighth Amendment's protection against "cruel and unusual" punishment.
"[Midazolam] doesn't guarantee that the prisoners will be insensate throughout the execution," said Eighth Amendment expert Megan McCracken from U.C. Berkeley School of Law's Death Penalty Clinic.
Legal experts are not the only ones with concerns about Oklahoma's drug protocol. Several anesthesiologists have expressed concern about using midazolam for executions. The drug is typically used in surgical procedures to sedate patients before they receive anesthesia. To sedate an average adult in surgery, a dose of midazolam is normally no more than 2 milligrams. State executioners, however, administer the drug in much greater quantities. During recent executions, about 500 milligrams have been used.
Many medical experts have noted that little is known about how the body reacts at that dose.