The US Supreme Court will hear a case this week challenging the constitutionality of Oklahoma's lethal injection procedure, The New York Times reports. The case is being brought by three death row inmates who are arguing for the discontinued use of midazolam, the first drug in Oklahoma's three-drug execution cocktail. The motion was initially filed by four inmates, but one, Charles Warner, was executed in January despite requesting a stay.
Oklahoma currently uses midazolam as a sedative, despite its questionable effectiveness as one. A petition filed by the inmates at the start of this year argued that midazolam "cannot maintain a deep, coma-like unconsciousness" necessary to prevent the prisoner from feeling excessive pain. Last year, after a botched execution that lasted an agonizing 43 minutes, Oklahoma temporarily halted all executions in the state.
Oklahoma just approved the use of nitrogen gas
Just last week, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed into law a bill that approved the use of nitrogen gas for executions in the state. The method, which will go into effect this November, is meant to be a backup to lethal injections, presumably in preparation for the court's decision this week. Even if the justices decide Oklahoma's lethal injection process is unconstitutional, the state can now move to nitrogen gas, followed by electrocution and finally, firing squad.
In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled in Kentucky's Baze v. Rees that a three-drug execution was constitutional. Those three drugs were sodium thiopental (an anesthetic), pancuronium bromide (a paralytic) and potassium chloride, which ultimately stops the heart. But midazolam is a benzodiazepine that has no pain-relieving properties. Florida is the only other state to use midazolam as the first drug in its three-drug cocktail. Ohio and Arizona have both used it in a two-drug cocktail.
The Supreme Court hasn't stepped in to examine the lethal injection procedure since 2008. It will hear the case on Wednesday, April 29th.