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Florida Halts Executions (For Now)

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to review the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol, Florida’s Supreme Court has halted executions for the time being.

Death row inmate Jerry William Correll was scheduled to die via lethal injection on Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015, but the state’s highest court ordered a stay of the execution. Correll has been on death row since 1986 for the murders of his ex-wife, two in-laws, and 5-year-old daughter. The decision ordering the stay came shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court accepted a petition to review the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s lethal injection drug cocktail. As noted in a prior post, Florida uses a similar drug combination for its death penalty injections.

Decision of the Court

In a 5 to 2 majority decision, Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga wrote for the majority, “Because the lethal injection protocol under review in the Supreme Court is virtually identical to the Florida three-drug lethal injection protocol, a stay of execution in this case is appropriate.” Labarga continued by saying, “Florida risks the unconstitutional execution of Correll, for which there is no remedy.” Rather, the court concluded, it was safer to wait until the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the drug cocktail before commencing with the execution.

The U.S. Supreme Court will be reviewing whether the drug cocktail and lethal injection procedure used by Oklahoma is considered cruel and unusual punishment, and thus in violation of the 8th Amendment. The debate stems from the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in April 2014. Lockett died of a heart attack 43 minutes after he received his lethal drug cocktail, which included a now-controversial drug called Midazolam. His vein collapsed, unnoticed by officials, and he experienced bleeding and convulsions prior to his death.

Midazolam, as we’ve discussed before, is a new lethal injection drug that is being pressed into service after the European Union cut off sales of the previous drugs used in most states’ lethal injection cocktails. Since the change in drug cocktails, the number of extremely public botched executions has increased. Dennis McGuire, in Ohio, took 26 minutes to die. He was gasping desperately for air and convulsing prior to death. Michael Lee Wilson was coherent and in visible pain prior to death. In fact, he even described feeling like he was on fire before finally passing away.

In light of these and other botched executions, Oklahoma inmate Richard Glossip challenged the constitutionality of the lethal injection drug procedure. He argues that it is cruel and unusual as currently administered. This is the case the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing.

Florida’s stay of the Correll execution is a surprising and positive move by the state, as it is the third leading state in executions performed annually. In 2014, Florida executed 8 individuals. The only two states with more executions were Texas and Missouri. Together, these executions represent 80 percent of executions in the country.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to review the lethal injection procedure has prompted other states, such as Alabama, to issue emergency stays to halt executions. In a related development, Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney General, in his personal capacity, has said that a nationwide moratorium on the use of the death penalty should be considered until the highest court in the land made its decision.   Such a pronouncement, even if not made in an official capacity, cannot help but keep the ultimate fate of the death penalty in the forefront of nationwide debate.

If You Think You Need A Lawyer, You Do. Call NOW!!

Fortunately, very few people ever need representation in a death penalty prosecution. But these are the most complex and challenging of all criminal cases, requiring defense attorneys who possess unique and unquestioned commitment, skill, and expertise. That is the kind of representation that every defendant is entitled to, regardless of the crime(s) charged.

Have you been arrested in a criminal case? Do you believe you may be under investigation for some kind of offense? Are you looking for a skilled attorney who can help defend you in federal or Florida state court?

If you think you need a lawyer, you do. Please contact Attorney Tony Moss at the Tony Moss Firm, L.L.C. to discuss any defense matters. He has offices in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, and is prepared to put his 27 years of experience to work for you.

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