Federal judge allows challenge to death penalty secrecy to continue

[JURIST] On Thursday a federal judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Missouri [official website] ordered [text, PDF] that a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] may continue, despite the state's objection. The lawsuit is challenging a bill intended to protect the identities of individuals who provide direct support for the administration of the death penalty, formally prohibiting the disclosure of executioners' identities and creating a civil cause of action to recover damages against anyone who discloses an executioner's identity. Critics of the bill allege that it erodes the transparency of the death penalty process and inhibits essential oversight which allows the state to verify how the drug is tested to ensure it does not cause pain [AP report] and suffering for the inmate. Supporters say the bill is necessary to protect individuals from being personally harassed for doing their jobs.

There is a shortage of commonly used lethal injection drugs in the US, forcing a number of states to modify their execution drug protocols. In February an Oklahoma compounding pharmacy agreed [JURIST report] not to provide a drug necessary to execute a Missouri inmate. Also in February the Supreme Court of Georgia heard arguments [JURIST report] regarding the constitutionality of a law allowing the state to withhold the identities of the manufacturers of Georgia's lethal injection drugs. That same week, a federal judge in Louisiana scheduled [JURIST report] a trial to review the constitutionality of the state's new execution protocol, which delayed the prisoner's execution for 90 days. In January the US Supreme Court stayed [JURIST report] the execution of a Missouri death row inmate because the state refused to release the name of the pharmaceutical to be used in the execution, but the stay was later lifted and the execution carried out. This same two-drug mixture at question in Louisiana was used last month in the execution of an Ohio convict, which reportedly caused him to suffer visible pain; his children have filed a suit in federal court over the prolonged execution [JURIST reports].

 

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