Arkansas Cases Reflect U.S. Death Penalty’s Troubles

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The difficulties that have frustrated Arkansas’s plan to execute eight prisoners in 10 days are a vivid example of the troubled state of the death penalty, the New York Times reports. “The ship has far too many leaks, large and small, to reach its destination reliably,” said Eric Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University. “The Arkansas example vividly shows the courts scrambling to patch some of them at the last second.” One difficulties facing Arkansas and other states is practical: The lethal chemicals used to execute death row inmates are getting harder to find. Another is legal: Courts even in conservative states like Arkansas are receptive to claims from the defense lawyers who make every available argument to spare their clients’ lives, even temporarily.

The biggest obstacle may be cultural: Support for the death penalty, as measured by use, is at its lowest point since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976. Courts around the nation imposed 30 death sentences last year, down from 315 in 1996, the highest total in recent decades. Similarly, there were just 20 executions in 2016, a decline from the 98 executions in 1999, the highest in the modern era. In another development, after a nearly two-year standoff between death penalty states and the federal government, the Food and Drug Administration formally blocked shipments of thousands of illegal execution drugs on their way to Texas and Arizona, BuzzFeed News reports. The move sets up a potential legal battle between death penalty states and the Trump administration.

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