Criminal justice experts recommend single drug for executions

BY Ellen Rolfes  May 7, 2014 at 10:16 AM EDT

A bipartisan group of death penalty opponents and proponents can agree on this: when it comes to carrying out a death sentence, states should only use U.S. government-approved single-drug cocktails.

That is just one of the several recommended reforms outlined in a report by the Constitution Project, a legal research nonprofit in Washington, D.C. In addition to adopting a one-drug protocol, the report’s authors also recommended only using drugs approved for use in humans and that executions be overseen by medical personnel.

The Constitution Project’s Death Penalty Committee — which includes former governors, judges and state attorneys general, as well as faith and business leaders and activists — had not addressed legal issues about lethal injections in previous reports. They address it now because there are “serious concerns about the safety and efficacy of lethal injection as a method of execution.”

“Due to foreign and some domestic drug manufacturers now refusing to provide drugs if they are to be used for executions, prisons have also encountered difficulty in obtaining some drugs previously relied on for this purpose, thus creating acute shortages. In light of these shortages, some states have proceeded with executions using drugs never before used to execute humans. They have also used drugs whose safety and effectiveness cannot be assured because they are manufactured by “compounding pharmacies,” which are not subject to FDA regulation.”

The report has been released one week after Oklahoma state officials failed in their attempt to execute Clayton Lockett, a death row inmate, by lethal injection. Lockett died 40 minutes later from a heart attack. After the botched execution, President Barack Obama said that he would work with the Justice Department to investigate the implementation of capital punishment.