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Argument preview: Justices to consider another lethal-injection challenge, this time by inmate with complicated medical history


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By Amy Howe on Oct 31, 2018 at 10:04 am

Next week the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case of Russell Bucklew, a Missouri death-row inmate who argues that the state’s plan to execute him by lethal injection violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment because he suffers from a rare medical condition that could lead to his gagging on his own blood.

When it was first adopted as a method of execution in the late 1970s, lethal injection was envisioned as a more humane alternative to other methods – such as the gas chamber, firing squad or hanging – that states had previously used. The idea was that the condemned inmate would peacefully drift off to sleep after receiving a series of drugs designed to anesthetize and then kill him. But since then, inmates have challenged lethal injections as a violation of the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, pointing to a series of botched executions that sometimes lasted over an hour and left inmates gasping for breath. They have also raised concerns about the drugs used in executions and the secrecy surrounding some states’ plans for lethal injections.

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