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Supreme Court blocks Ohio execution

The US Supreme Court [official website] on Wednesday denied [text, PDF] Ohio's request to put a condemned killer to death, effectively putting the state's executions on hold. Without comment, the court refused [AP report] to allow Ohio to execute Charles Lorraine, a 45-year-old man who was convicted in 1986 of killing an elderly couple. Though Ohio Governor John Kasich [official website] rejected Lorraine's plea for mercy, the execution has been consistently delayed by federal courts over growing concerns that the state deviates too often from its lethal injection rules. Despite Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's argument [text, PDF] that the state's minor deviations in death penalty policy do not make the process unconstitutional, the Supreme Court refused to reverse an earlier decision [text, PDF] made by the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio [official website] and upheld [text, PDF] last month by the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website]. Said the Sixth Circuit in affirming the opinion:

We agree with the district court that the State should do what it agreed to do: in other words it should adhere to the execution protocol it adopted. As the district court found, whether slight or significant deviations from the protocol occur, the State's ongoing conduct requires the federal courts to monitor every execution on an ad hoc basis, because the State cannot be trusted to fulfill its otherwise lawful duty to execute inmates sentenced to death.
The deviations in death penalty policy criticized by the district court include switching the official whose job it is to announce the start and finish times of the lethal injection and failing to properly document that the inmate's medical chart was reviewed.

Ohio's death penalty procedures have received consistent attention over the past few years. Last November, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor [official website] instructed the state's death panel review committee [JURIST report] that its purpose was to provide "guidance on the current laws on the subject, the practices in other jurisdictions, the date, the costs, and many other aspects associated with the death penalty." The Chief Justice announced the formation of the committee [JURIST report] last September, declaring that it would be responsible for ensuring that the death penalty law is "administered in the most fair, efficient, and judicious manner possible." In March 2010, the Supreme Court refused to stay the execution of an Ohio inmate [JURIST report] who challenged the state's single-drug lethal injection protocol, which was changed [JURIST report] in November 2009 from the previously used three-drug method. Ohio conducted its first execution [JURIST report] using the new method in December 2009. The change in protocol came after the state reviewed its lethal injection practices [JURIST report] following a failed execution in September 2009.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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