The questions over lethal injection that have prompted a halt to executions in Florida and California are likely to curb the use of the death penalty in the U.S., say analysts quoted by USA Today. It is not clear whether the increasing focus on whether lethal injection is unconstitutionally painful represents a significant and lasting turn against the death penalty or a temporary slowdown in executions that will end once procedures for injections are improved. “I think we’re headed towards fewer executions,” says Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham University Law School. She says problems in the death penalty system – unqualified public defenders, the need for more DNA testing, and questions about lethal injections – have prevented capital punishment from being applied fairly.
Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports the death penalty, disagrees that the decline will last. He calls the controversy over lethal injection – which is used in most of the 38 states that have the death penalty – “a significant but temporary setback” for capital punishment that will lead to fewer executions only until problems with injections are resolved. He notes that public opinion surveys consistently have shown that about two-thirds of Americans support the death penalty. On Friday, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush suspended executions and appointed a panel to examine whether lethal injections represent an unconstitutional “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment. Federal Judge Jeremy Fogel in San Jose ruled that California’s lethal injection system violated the Eighth Amendment; he left open the possibility that the state could come up with an acceptable protocol for executions.