Judges rule 5-4 that controversial drug midazolam does not violate a constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Nevada officials face yet another obstacle in carrying out the death penalty if they needed to do so.
One of the two drugs that make up a cocktail in the lethal injection has expired, and the pharmaceutical company that produces it refuses on principle to give the state any more.
Most states use either a one-drug or three-drug protocol for lethal injections, and it’s unclear which of the two drugs Nevada has run out of.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, other states that administer two-drug cocktails typically use a barbiturate, such as midazolam (blamed for several botched executions), in combination with hydromorphone, an opioid.
It had been reported that Nevada used sodium thiopental as its barbiturate, and Hospira, the only company to produce the drug in the US, announced in 2011 that it would no longer produce the drug as it “could not prevent the drug from being diverted to departments of corrections for use in capital punishment procedures”.
Some states, such as Arizona and Texas, have resorted to illegally importing the drug from overseas suppliers.
The lack of drugs is another hurdle for a state that hasn’t had a working execution chamber since 2011. A new chamber is under construction in Ely at a cost of $858,000 and should be ready on November 1.
Last year, the state’s Department of Corrections asked for funding for a new execution chamber as the only execution chamber in the state was in a decommissioned state prison in Carson City.
There are 80 people on the state’s death row, but none has exhausted their appeals. Nevada hasn’t had an execution since 2006.
Officials with the Nevada Department of Corrections say they’re putting out requests for companies willing to supply lethal injection drugs.
The availability of execution drugs has become an issue in many death penalty states.
Texas, by far the nation’s most active one, began using a compounding pharmacy as its source when traditional pharmaceutical makers refused to sell their products to prison agencies to be used for executions.