Alabama hit man Kenneth Eugene Smith got a (hopefully brief) respite from his execution yesterday. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit granted a stay on a different issue than the one noted in this post. The Supreme Court vacated the stay, three Justices dissenting, but the warrant expired at midnight, and the execution team was not able to find a suitable vein in that time.
Execution warrants that are good for one calendar day only are an old tradition, but there is no need for such a limitation. In an era where many judges are prone to issue last-minute stays, whether they are legally justified or not, a one-day window needlessly changes quickly reversed stays into longer ones in practice, as the date-setting machinery must be restarted. This is also very stressful for victims’ families, who often travel to the execution site believing that they are finally going to see long-overdue justice done, only to have it snatched away at the last minute.
States are gradually doing away with the one-day rule. California has a 10-day window, enacted by initiative.
I suggest that the Alabama Legislature fix this in its next session.