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Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

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In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

Arizona, prisoners reach deal to settle death penalty suit

Arizona's death chamber
Arizona's death chamber
PHOENIX (AP) — Lawyers for a group of condemned prisoners who sued over how Arizona conducts executions told a federal judge Monday that they have reached a tentative settlement with the state.

The agreement between the state and the prisoners contains a series of provisions to address the prisoners' arguments that the state's execution procedures violate their constitutional rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment and have due process.

The agreement limits the power of the Department of Corrections' director to change execution drugs at the last minute, requires that drugs be tested before use and bars the state from using expired drugs. 

It also increases transparency in the execution process.

The Department of Corrections officially published the new execution rules late last month, and the settlement would make those provisions binding.

The agreement still needs approval by the prisoners. But one of their attorneys, Josh Anderson, told U.S. District Judge Neil Wake he expects that to happen as soon as next week. 

If the settlement falls through for some reason, Wake has set a bench trial for September.

"That trial will not move - there is no place to move it," Wake told the attorneys. "I'm inclined to hold my breath for 10 days."

Source: Associated Press, June 12, 2017


Arizona to cut paralytic drugs in execution overhaul: lawyer


(Reuters) - Arizona has agreed to scrap paralytic drugs from its lethal injection mix and allow witnesses to see more of the execution procedure under an overhaul of the state's death penalty practices, a lawyer for death row inmates said on Monday.

The changes are part of a settlement announced on Monday in federal court in Phoenix in a 2014 lawsuit brought by seven death row inmates who argued Arizona's lethal injection practices were experimental, secretive and caused inmates prolonged suffering.

Dale Baich, a lawyer for the litigants in the case, said the settlement agreement must be approved by a federal judge.

Representatives for Arizona's attorney general and the state Department of Corrections could not be reached to comment.

Baich said the agreement, if approved, would mark the first time a U.S. state had agreed to such major changes in its drug protocol and execution procedures because of prisoners' complaints.

"The state is taking appropriate steps to decrease the risk that prisoners will be tortured to death," he said.

Under the settlement, Arizona agreed not to use paralytic drugs, which lawyers for the inmates argued hid signs of consciousness and suffering during executions.

The state also agreed to limit the authority of the director of the department of corrections to change execution drugs, and allow a prisoner time to challenge any drug changes, Baich said.

States have been scrambling to find chemicals for lethal injection mixes after U.S. and European pharmaceutical makers placed a sales ban in recent years on drugs for executions because of ethical concerns.

In December, Arizona agreed in the same case to stop using the valium-like sedative midazolam, or related products, as a part of a drug protocol for lethal injections.

Midazolam has been used in troubled executions in Arizona, Alabama, Ohio and Oklahoma. In some instances, witnesses said convicted murderers twisted on gurneys before dying.

It was also used along with a narcotic in Arizona's last execution, which was for convicted murderer Joseph Wood in 2014.

Wood was seen gasping for air during a nearly two-hour procedure where he received 15 rounds of drug injections. Lethal injections typically result in death in a matter of minutes.

Arizona also agreed under the settlement to allow greater transparency by letting witnesses view more of the execution process, including the moment the executioner administers the drugs intravenously, Baich said.

Source: Reuters, June 12, 2017

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