Friday, February 08, 2008

Nebraska Outlaws Electric Chair

This ruling by the Nebraska Supreme Court was not written in the 19th century, but last week:

We recognize the temptation to make the prisoner suffer, just as the prisoner made an innocent victim suffer. But it is the hallmark of a civilized society that we punish cruelty without practicing it. Condemend prisoners must not be tortured to death, regardless of their crimes. And the evidence clearly proves that unconsciousness and death are not instantaneous for many condemned prisoners. These prisoners will, when electrocuted, consciously suffer the torture that high voltage electric current inflicts on the human body. The evidence shows that electrocution inflicts intense pain and agonizing suffering. Therefore, electrocution as a method of execution is cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Nebraska Constitution.

There's something unbearably chilling about a system's top judiciary feeling required to express sympathy with the desire to intentionally inflict pain and suffering.

And that's in the positive side, the rationale for finally stopping execution by electric chair. The dissenting opinion provides some other charming nuggets. In arguing that "evolving standards of decency" cannot be used as an argument for striking down the electric chair, it says, many American jurisdictions are needed to show that society’s standards of decency have evolved? In Stanford, the Court observed that only 15 of the 37 death penalty states refused to impose capital punishment on 16-year-old offenders and only 12 refused to do so for 17-year-old offenders. In the 15 years between Stanford and Roper, a total of 18 state legislatures - or 48 percent of death penalty states - prohibited the execution of minors.


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