Treating Death Row Inmates like Disposable Guinea Pigs is Unconstitutional

Late last month, Clayton Lockett, a horrible person, died an equally horrible death.

After being injected with an experimental sedative--necessitated due to EU export-bans on traditional execution drugs--and declared "unconscious," the murderer writhed in blistering pain for nearly thirty minutes and mumbled "oh, man" as befuddled prison officials drew curtains to shield witnesses from what, by his lawyer's account, looked like "torture." A prison official later explained that one of his veins had "exploded."

Expressing the politically popular view, Republican Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin had previously downplayed concerns the experimental cocktail used to murder Lockett would constitute cruel and unusual punishment, saying the two men slated to die that day would merely be facing "justice." After Lockett's botched execution, however, she immediately cancelled the second one--apparently acknowledging that torture falls outside the bounds of legitimate American justice.

Unfortunately for Lockett, she didn't realize this sooner.

When faced with cruel and unusual crimes, our natural reaction is to demand cruel and unusual punishment. For Lockett, who buried his victim alive, his death--however cruel--seems merciful by comparison. "They should've buried him alive, too," is the predominate view on the Internet, and it is an understandable one.

The problem is that even if this sentiment were morally correct, it is legally incorrect. The Eighth Amendment prohibits "cruel and unusual" punishment. Period. Using drugs that have never been tried is unusual almost by definition; subjecting death row inmates to months and perhaps years of uncertainty about what they will face whilst dying is cruel.

A civilized country that still sanctions the death penalty should at least attempt to administer it in a civilized manner. Whether you are liberal or conservative, so long as you respect the Constitution's clear meaning the solution is clear: