Vanderbilt Law Review


Alexander Vey

First Page



"If we, as a society, cannot stomach the splatter from an execution carried out by firing squad, then we shouldn't be carrying out executions at all." Judge Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals laid down this challenge to reform the "inherently flawed" use of lethal injection in carrying out the death penalty. Justice Sotomayor recently voiced similar concerns, stating, "[W]e deserve to know the price of our collective comfort before we blindly allow a State to make condemned inmates pay it in our names." These judges' reasoning should underlie any discussion of the death penalty: can we, as a society, handle the reality of the state ending a life on our behalf? The case that prompted Judge Kozinski's recommendation, Wood v. Ryan, illustrates challenges many states now face to their lethal injection protocols and the risk of botched executions. Joseph Wood was convicted in Arizona of killing his ex-girlfriend and her father in 1989 and sentenced to death. In 2014, the Arizona Attorney General indicated Wood would be executed using two drugs-midazolam and hydromorphone. Until recently, however, most states used the same three-drug protocol: sodium thiopental, then pancuronium bromide, and finally potassium chloride. But Arizona could not acquire its typical drugs. Wood was to be the first inmate in Arizona put to death using the midazolam-hydromorphone combination. Other states had used similar protocols in executions, ending in complications and botched executions.