Florida Supreme Court Stays Execution to Allow Lethal Injection Hearing

On July 25, the Florida Supreme Court (4-3) stayed the August 2 execution of Manuel Valle to allow a lower court to consider a challenge to a new lethal injection drug. Last month, Florida substituted pentobarbital for sodium thiopental as the first drug in its three-drug protocol for executions. Florida and many other states were forced to seek alternatives to sodium thiopental when the drug’s sole U.S. manufacturer decided to stop its production. Valle’s lawyers contend that the use of pentobarbital would subject him to a substantial risk of harm because the drug has never been tested on humans for the purpose of inducing an anesthetic coma. Federal judges in Ohio and Delaware have also recently stayed executions in those states because of lethal injection challenges, although the stay in Delaware was lifted pending clarification of the basis for the stay. On separate grounds, a federal judge in Florida found the state’s death penalty law unconstitutional because jurors are not given decision-making power to determine whether a defendant is eligible for the death penalty. That case is still under review.

Valle’s case will return to Circuit Judge Jacqueline Hogan Scola in Miami, who will hear evidence on the new drug and make a ruling by August 5.

(B. Kaczor, “Florida Supreme Court stays Valle’s execution,” Miami Herald, July 25, 2011). See Lethal Injection.