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The constitutionality of lethal injection in murder death penalty cases

Death sentence

It goes without saying that murder is a serious offense. Within this crime category, punishment varies, according to the Georgia Code, from punished by death, to imprisonment for life without parole, to imprisonment for life. For those who are sentenced to death, the Georgia Code provides for lethal injection as the means of carrying out the death penalty.


Lethal injection as a form of execution has been upheld as constitutional under both the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and Art. 1, Sec. 1, Para. XVII of the Georgia Constitution, both of which prohibit cruel and unusual punishment, by a number of state court cases ( Dawson v. State (2001); Riley v. State (2004)), albeit without a great deal of legal analysis. The court in Dawson essentially praised lethal injection as society’s choice as the most compassionate method to take a life. These two cases, notwithstanding, lethal injection has been continually challenged as unconstitutional during the past decade, although so far without great success.

Confidentiality of source of lethal drugs

A recent legal challenge has arisen over the applicability and constitutionality of the lethal injection provision of the Georgia Code, which was amended in 2013 to provide that the source of lethal injection drugs was a “confidential state secret” not subject to disclosure. In that same year, in the case of Hill v. Owens, the plaintiff, convicted of murder, filed a motion in superior court for an injunction against his execution, claiming that the statute in question unconstitutionally denied his access to the courts to make his claim that lethal injection was cruel and unusual punishment. The court agreed and granted a stay of execution. The case was appealed to the state Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, in 2014, reversed the decision of the superior court, ruling that the confidentiality statute did not deny the plaintiff’s right to access to the courts or due process, stating that the inmate’s lack of success, having had full consideration of his case by the trial court and then by the Supreme Court on appeal, stemmed not from any lack of access to the courts or to due process but, instead, simply from the fact that he failed to show that obtaining the requested information would allow him to make a viable claim. The Supreme Court also denied the inmates Eighth Amendment claim; the inmate failed to prove that knowing who manufactured his lethal-injection drugs would meet the standard required, that is, show a “substantial risk of serious harm.”

Despite these setbacks, the case has yet to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although the court has upheld the use of lethal injection, it has yet to deal with this specific issue, the confidentiality of the source of the drugs used in such an execution.


If you ever find yourself accused of murder, you should immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney, who will investigate the facts of your situation and provide you the best defense possible.