Court rules that Florida can use controversial lethal-injection drug in Jerry Correll case

Court rules that Florida can use controversial lethal-injection drug in Jerry Correll case
Florida Department of Corrections

In early July, we wrote about how the U.S. Supreme Court had cleared the way for states to use midazolam, a controversial lethal-injection drug that has been linked to cases in which prisoners being executed may not have been sufficiently sedated during the process. The drug, which was first used in Florida, has been part of the lethal-injection cocktail in four states: Ohio, Florida, Oklahoma and Arizona. But after a case in which an Oklahoma prisoner sat up and regained consciousness during an execution, a group of the state's death-row inmates filed suit, arguing that use of the drug, which is not FDA approved to be used as the sole anesthetic in painful procedures because it does not induce deep unconsciousness (nor does it relieve pain), should be considered a violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court ruled that the prisoners had not identified "a known and alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain," and that (despite Justice Sonia Sotomayor's dissenting opinion that use of midazolam, "leaves petitioners exposed to what may well be the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake") the inmates failed to really even prove that use of the drug actually does cause those who've been executed using it "severe pain." 

While the case worked its way through the court, Florida death-row inmate Jerry Correll received a stay of his execution, which was originally scheduled for February 2015. Shortly after the Supreme Court's opinion was made, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to vacate the stay, but her petition was rejected until a new hearing on Correll's specific case could be heard. Correll had argued that he was particularly concerned about the use of the drug, which is sometimes known to have a paradoxical effect on some people, making them even more alert rather than unconscious, because of his history of drug use and alleged brain damage. 

The 9th Judicial Circuit has rejected Correll's argument that the use of midazolam should be considered cruel and unusual punishment, and it cleared the way for the state to execute him. According to the News Service of Florida, 9th Judicial Circuit Judge Jenifer M. Davis ruled that Correll "has not presented sufficient scientific proof to establish that the application of Florida's lethal injection protocol is unconstitutional as applied to him." 

Correll was convicted to death for the 1985 Orange County stabbing deaths of his ex-wife, his young daughter, his former mother-in-law and his sister. 

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