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Thursday, January 25, 2007

North Carolina judge blocks executions after doctors refuse to participate
Joshua Pantesco at 3:18 PM ET

[JURIST] A North Carolina state judge on Thursday issued an injunction blocking two executions until Gov. Mike Easley issues new procedures to execute capital defendants without the presence of doctors. The new execution protocol is required after the North Carolina Medical Board last week changed their capital punishment policy [text], taking the position that "physician participation in capital punishment is a departure from the ethics of the medical profession." The new policy threatens participating doctors with the loss of their license. Lawyers for the two defendants have argued that only physicians can ensure that executions do not cause undue pain to the victim in violation of the state and US constitutions. North Carolina law requires the presence of a physician at all executions. WRAL.com has local coverage.

Earlier this week, a group of Democrats in the North Carolina legislature called for the suspension of all executions [JURIST report], pointing to the recent statewide moratorium on executions [JURIST report] issued by Florida Governor Jeb Bush in that state. A letter to Gov. Easley [DOC text] said a moratorium is required "in response to the mounting evidence that the procedure used to execute prisoners in North Carolina has the potential to cause undue and excruciating pain."

Several other states have been confronted of late with death penalty issues. Earlier this month, a New Jersey State commission recommended [JURIST report] that New Jersey abolish the death penalty completely, replacing it with a life sentence without the possibility of parole. If the commission's report makes its way into law New Jersey will become the first US jurisdiction to ban capital punishment in over 35 years. In December, a federal judge in California effectively suspended capital punishment there [JURIST report] by ruling that that state's lethal injection procedure creates "an undue and unnecessary risk" of cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution. In its 2006 year-end report [PDF text; press release], the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) [advocacy website] noted that the number of death sentences issued in 2006 reached the lowest level in 30 years [JURIST report].

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