Oklahoma top court rules death row inmates have no right to know source of lethal injection drugs

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Oklahoma [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday that two inmates' constitutional rights were not violated by keeping sources of lethal injection drugs secret. The 5-4 opinion affirmed [AP report] the district court's declaratory judgment that denied the prisoners relief and reversed the declaratory judgment that found confidentiality of the source of drug cocktails unconstitutional. The secrecy provision in Title 22 §1015(B) of the Oklahoma statutes [text] states, "The identity of all persons who participate in or administer the execution process and persons who supply the drugs, medical supplies or medical equipment for the execution shall be confidential and shall not be subject to discovery in any civil or criminal proceedings." The court's inquiry turned to whether or not the secrecy provision prevented inmates from access to the courts to pursue an Eighth Amendment [text] claim. Finding that the inmates had been provided with the identity and dosages of the drugs and had not demonstrated actual prejudice, the court found that the inmates were not prevented from accessing the courts.

There is a shortage of commonly used lethal injection drugs in the US, forcing a number of states to modify their execution drug protocols. Earlier this month a federal judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Missouri [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] challenging a bill intended to protect the identities of individuals who provide direct support for the administration of the death penalty may continue. 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 [official website] 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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