Criminal Defense News

Execution: Testing the Untested on Humans

By: Julie Manakas, Law Clerk at the Law Offices of Stephen G. Cline**

What constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment? The question can sometimes be ambiguous and for some the answer depends on the crime that was committed. When Dennis McGuire was put to death by execution on January 16, the manner and result of the lethal injection was nothing short of cruel. The state of Ohio used a never before tested combination of lethal drugs that ultimately put Dennis to death. It took twenty-five minutes from when the lethal drugs were injected into his veins for his heart to stop beating. During those minuets, Dennis was making snorting and choking sounds while loudly gasping for air with his fist clenched tightly.

One might say that Dennis got what he deserved. Dennis was convicted of raping and killing a pregnant woman in 1989. But if our society is and rightfully believes that killing is wrong, why are we using death as a form of punishment?

Many of the drugs that are used for execution like pentobarbital are drugs that are used to treat critically ill patients in hospitals. Most of these drugs come from other countries, countries who believe that the death penalty is inhumane. It should be a wake up call to know that a lot of these countries have begun to boycott the selling of this drug to the United States only because we continue to use the drugs to perform executions. What is the effect of this? Well, all those critically ill patients are not receiving the treatment they need, and new drugs are being used for lethal injection.

The state of Ohio had recently run out of pentobarbital, and so they had to create a new lethal concoction. Dennis’ execution was the first execution to use the lethal combination of midazolam and hydromorphone. Dennis was essentially the lab rat that tested this combination of two drugs. What resulted was a long agonizing death that was likely painful for Dennis and equally emotionally damaging for his family. In regards to Dennis’ possible suffering, United States District Judge Gregory Frost has said, “It is worth noting at the outset that the Constitution does not demand a pain-free execution. What the Constitution does demand is avoidance of a demonstrated or substantial risk of severe pain.”

With new lethal concoctions in the making and no way to properly test them, how can we assure the avoidance of substantial severe pain?  We can’t, because we simply don’t know what will happen. What is essentially using human beings as test rats has and will likely result in the psychological torture to the family and possible physical torture during the execution.  Lethal Injection, something many other countries have abolished, we continue to use with almost total apathy toward the realization that we are flirting along the lines of cruel and unusual punishment in our manner of execution.

Attorney Stephen G. Cline has been practicing San Diego criminal defense for 20 years.  His reputation and experience will be the key to the aggressive defense of your San Diego criminal case.  Mr. Cline is one of only a few San Diego Criminal Defense lawyers qualified to handle death penalty cases.  Call today at (619) 235-5638 to review your specific case!

**This post has been submitted by a guest author interning with the Law Offices of Stephen G. Cline.  Mr. Cline believes in giving back to the industry and sharing his knowledge and experience by mentoring third year law students through clinical internships with California Western School of Law.  While the opinions expressed are that of the author, Mr. Cline has reviewed and approved this post.

Stephen G. Cline

Stephen G. Cline

Stephen grew up in Sacramento and pursued a degree from California State University at Sacramento. After graduation he worked in a group home caring for violent, suicidal and/or abused children. Though that and other personal experiences, Stephen brings unparalleled service to potentiality catastrophic situations. Learn more about Stephen and connect with him today!
Stephen G. Cline