The questions over lethal injection that have led executions to be halted in Florida and California are likely to curb the use of the death penalty across the USA, according to analysts who support capital punishment and others who oppose it.
However, it’s unclear whether the increasing focus on whether lethal injection is unconstitutionally painful represents a significant and lasting turn against the death penalty or a temporary slowdown in executions that will end once procedures for injections are improved.
“I think we’re headed towards fewer executions,” says Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham University Law School who was on the U.S. Sentencing Commission from 1994 to 1997. She says a range of problems in the nation’s death penalty system — unqualified public defenders, the need for more DNA testing and questions about lethal injections, for example — have prevented capital punishment from being applied fairly.
Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports the death penalty, disagrees that the decline will last.
He calls the controversy over lethal injection — which is used in nearly all of the 38 states that have the death penalty — “a significant but temporary setback” for capital punishment that will lead to fewer executions only until problems with injections are resolved.