WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court made it easier Monday for death row inmates to contest the lethal injections used across the country for executions and to get DNA evidence before judges in a pair of rulings that hinted at fresh caution on capital punishment.
The decisions, both written by moderate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, ease the rules for longtime prisoners to get their cases back into court and could add years to their appeals.
“Today’s decisions are further evidence of the Supreme Court’s increasing discomfort with many aspects of the death penalty system,” said Steven Shapiro, national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The vote was unanimous in allowing condemned inmates to make special federal court claims that the chemicals used in executions are too painful — and therefore amount to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.
It was a slap to the Bush administration and 25 states, which supported Florida in arguing that allowing new appeals would jeopardize finality and justice for victims’ families.