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Capital Punishment Expert: Fla. Ruling Not The Final Word On Execution Drugs

The Florida Supreme Court Thursday denied the appeal of a death row inmate who had challenged the state’s execution drug cocktail, among other issues. But although justices did not object to the drugs in Askari Muhammad’s case, one legal expert says the question is far from settled.

Muhammmad, formerly known as Thomas Knight, contended the state’s use of a new execution drug could cause extreme pain and thus constituted cruel and unusual punishment. But the Court writes it trusts the Florida Department of Corrections to follow its own guideline of using constitutional execution methods.

Although that language sounds definitive, Fordham University law professor Deborah Denno, who’s written extensively on capital punishment, says the case is not a precedent for an ongoing federal court challenge to the drugs.

“There’s testimony and transcript evidence to suggest that they’re going to be considering why Florida changed its drug protocol, why it chose the particular drug that it did," she explains.

Florida began using the drug midazolam in October after running out of the previous drug. Seven prisoners are challenging its use in federal court.

Denno says the same legal wrangling over execution drugs is playing out across the country, even five years after the U.S. Supreme court upheld Kentucky’s use of a three-drug cocktail.