Montana judge strikes down state lethal injection law Max Slater at 11:01 AM ET
[JURIST] Montana's Lewis and Clark County District Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that the state's lethal injection method [technical manual, PDF] violates the provision of the Montana constitution [text, PDF] that forbids cruel and unusual punishment. The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana [advocacy website] on behalf of two death row inmates. Judge Jeffrey Sherlock held that Montana's execution procedure, which involves injections of three different drugs, is cruel and unusual under US Supreme Court [official website] precedent. Noting that the Montana constitution's "human dignity" clause requires the court to give heightened scrutiny to a claim of cruel and unusual punishment, Sherlock ruled that because the three-drug method used by Montana's Department of Corrections differed from the state's statutory protocol requiring a two-drug lethal injection method, mistakes in the execution process could result:
[T]he fact that the statutory protocol is different from the protocol adopted by the Department of Corrections increases the likelihood of confusion and error in the execution. [This] create[s] a substantial risk of serious harm violative of the Plaintiffs' right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment.
Sherlock also faulted a state practice [Reuters report] that allows a prison warden with no medical training or execution experience to determine whether a prisoner is unconscious before a fatal drug is administered. It is unclear if the state of Montana plans to appeal the ruling.
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