Tennessee Supreme Court Suspends Executions

On April 10, the Tennessee Supreme Court canceled the execution dates for all four Tennessee death-row inmates currently under death warrant, and returned their cases to the lower courts to address the inmates’ challenges to the state’s lethal injection procedures. The executions had been scheduled for October 2015 through March 2016. Tennessee has not carried out an execution since 2009, but the state announced in 2013 that it would switch from a three-drug lethal injection protocol to a one-drug protocol using pentobarbital. Because of difficulties obtaining lethal injection drugs, Tennessee also passed a law in 2014 permitting the use of the electric chair if lethal injection drugs are not available. A group of inmates are currently challenging the constitutionality of Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol as constituting cruel and unusual punishment, and the inmates have also challenged the State’s use of the electric chair. The Tennessee Supreme Court is expected to decide soon if it will review the inmates’ challenges to the electric chair.

(S. Barchenger, “Tenn. executions halted as legal challenges continue,” The Tennessean, April 13, 2015; M. Berman, “Tennessee court calls off the rest of the state’s scheduled executions,” The Washington Post, April 13, 2015.) See Lethal Injection and Recent Legislative Activity.