Arkansas court upholds execution protocol

2016-06-23 23:15


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Little Rock - Arkansas can execute eight death row inmates, a split state Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in upholding a state law that keeps information about its lethal injection drugs confidential.

It has only seven days, however, before one of the drugs needed for the three-drug protocol expires, and it wasn't clear when Arkansas will be able to resume its first executions since 2005.

Court decisions generally aren't certified until 18 days after they are handed down, meaning the decision would become final on July 11. Parties can ask the court to speed up the timetable; there was no sign on Thursday morning that that had been done. The drug expires on June 30, and the supplier has said it will not sell the state more.

The inmates had argued that Arkansas' execution secrecy law could lead to cruel and unusual punishment and that the state reneged on a pledge to share information.

But the high court said that a lower court "erred in ruling that public access to the identity of the supplier of the three drugs [the Arkansas Department of Correction] has obtained would positively enhance the functioning of executions in Arkansas. As has been well documented, disclosing the information is actually detrimental to the process."

Attorneys for the state said at least five other courts have ruled that the three drugs used in Arkansas' protocol are acceptable, including the sedative midazolam. The US Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma's use of midazolam last year.

Jeff Rosenzweig, an attorney representing the inmates, did not have an immediate comment on Thursday.

Arkansas Department of Correction spokesperson Solomon Graves said the agency was aware of the ruling, but would not comment, nor say whether it would try to move forward with the executions.

Graves referred all questions about the ruling and its impact to the attorney general's office. A spokesperson for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said the state was reviewing the ruling and would comment later Thursday.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson set dates last September for the state's first executions since 2005, but those were later stayed by the court until the inmates' challenge could be heard. A message left with the governor's office was not immediately returned on Thursday.

The state's attorneys had asked the high court to overturn Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen's ruling that the secrecy provisions of the execution law are unconstitutional. They argued that the inmates did not present a compelling argument to strike down the execution secrecy provision, which requires the state to conceal the maker and seller of the drugs including from the death row inmates.

The inmates argued that without disclosure of the source and other information they had no way to determine whether the midazolam, vecuronium bromide or potassium chloride would lead to cruel and unusual punishment.

The inmates also argued that the secrecy law violates a settlement in an earlier lawsuit that guaranteed inmates would be given the information. The state has said that agreement is not a binding contract.

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