Arkansas has been in the headlines recently for its unprecedented decision to execute no fewer than 8 death row inmates in a span of just 11 days. The sudden flurry of executions is chilling. However, it is even more bothersome because the reason for the furious pace is simply that one of the chemicals used in Arkansas’ lethal injection cocktail – one that is already controversial – is about to expire. The issues surrounding the situation implicate numerous aspects of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments.
Already, several inmates have been executed. One of them had even maintained his innocence all the way up to the execution.
Unlike Maine, Arkansas is one of the 31 states in the U.S. that uses capital punishment for certain crimes. The most common execution method in the United States is lethal injection, though many states, including Arkansas, also use others, as well.
Different states use different injection methods, though. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, six states use a lethal injection that consists of an overdose of a single anesthetic drug, pentobarbital.
Arkansas, however, is one of the numerous states that use a combination of three drugs for their lethal injection process. However, numerous companies have refused to sell their drugs to states for use in executions, forcing states to scramble for other sources, stockpile chemicals, or use alternatives. One of the alternatives that Arkansas has adopted is the drug midazolam, which is used as the anesthetic first injection in the execution process. After this injection, a paralytic is used, followed by a shot of potassium chloride that stops the inmate’s heart.
Midazolam, however, is not the best drug for lethal injections. It’s a weak sedative famous for seeming to leave Ronald Smith conscious during his own execution on December 8, 2016. When paired with the paralyzing second shot in the lethal injection process, though, it’s impossible for the inmate to tell anyone what they’re going through. For all anyone knows, they could be experiencing the most torturous pain possible.
Nevertheless, Arkansas will be relying on the drug to speed through a handful of executions before its stock of midazolam expires. The issues that this raises are significant: Not only are the lives of living people being directly impacted because of the expiration date on a drug, but their appeals process is being shortened, as well. On April 20, Ledell Lee was the first inmate to be executed in Arkansas’ race against its expiration date. Both he and the American Civil Liberties Union had insisted on his innocence right up to the moment of the execution.
Maine does not have its own capital punishment process right now. However, it is useful to watch as other states carry out executions so we can remind ourselves that we made the right decision to repeal our death penalty.
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