Judge strikes down state's new effort to make execution method legal | Arkansas Blog

Friday, February 14, 2014

Judge strikes down state's new effort to make execution method legal

Posted By on Fri, Feb 14, 2014 at 1:36 PM

STILL USELESS: The state's death chamber.
  • STILL USELESS: The state's death chamber.

David Goins of Fox 16 Tweets the breaking news that a Pulaski circuit judge has struck down the state's new lethal injection law because it gives too much to discretion to the Correction Department in application.

Here's the background of the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs argued, and Judge Wendell Griffen agreed, that the legislature hadn't given the department sufficient guidance in how to choose and use barbiturates in lethal injections. The lack of availability of drugs previously used in a lethal "cocktail" had shut down lethal injections nationwide.

The state likely will appeal the decision as will plaintiffs, who lost an effort to protest retroactive application of the new law to them. But Attorney General Dustin McDaniel continues to look correct in his assessment that the means of Arkansas or any state finding a permanent, court-upheld method of execution is slim. At some point, the state must decide whether to keep trying or to save a great deal of money, without any demonstrated impact on crime, and go to a system of life in prison for the worst offenders.

UPDATE: Rep. Nate Steel of Nashville, a Democratic candidate for attorney general who worked on the legislation, issued the following statement critical of the decision:

LITTLE ROCK – State Representative Nate Steel, candidate for Attorney General, today expresses his disappointment and frustration at the Pulaski County Circuit Court’s decision to strike down Act 139, an act regarding the administration of a lethal injection.

Act 139 says the Department of Corrections shall carry out the sentence of death by intravenous lethal injection of a barbiturate in an amount sufficient to cause death. “Last legislative session, we were faced with the challenge of giving the Department of Corrections the options it needs to obtain the rare chemicals necessary to carry out executions, while at the same time giving specific direction, as required by the constitution,” Rep. Steel said.

While working on this legislation, Steel worked closely with the Arkansas Attorney General’s office, Arkansas Prosecutor Coordinator’s office, and sat with a panel of experts at the University of Law School to gather input from all of them. “I feel confident Act 139 struck that balance needed. For the court to hold this one particular statute to a high standard is understandable, but making it impossible to pass a constitutional capital punishment provision is another,” Steel added.

“To say I’m disappointed in the court would be an understatement,” Steel said. “Moreover, I am extremely concerned that our trial judges and the Arkansas Supreme Court are deciding these death penalty cases based on politics, rather than interpreting the law.” He added, “If that is truly the case, the courts will continue to strike down any capital punishment statute we pass as unconstitutional. Such a practice undermines the policy of this State as set forth by the General Assembly on behalf of its citizens.”

“As your next Attorney General, I will continue to fight to reinstate our capital punishment system and work to ensure we have a constitutional process for executions,” Steel concluded. 

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