Saturday, June 23, 2012

Arkansas Supreme Court strikes down death penalty law

The Arkansas Supreme Court yesterday struck down the state's death penalty law, "faulting a provision that permitted the Corrections Department to select the fatal drugs used in an execution."  In the 5 to 2 ruling, the justices sided with ten death row inmates who had challenged the constitutionality of the law.  The majority held that the legislature--not the department of corrections--must set the quantity and type of drugs used in lethal injections.  Read the New York Times coverage of the decision here.

This ruling comes in the context of a shortage of the anesthetic sodium thiopental, one of three drugs used in lethal injections.  When the active ingredient in the drug became too difficult to obtain, the company that had previously manufactured sodium thiopental stopped making it in 2010. Arkansas has no doses of the drug left. The Arkansas law does not specify whether a substitute for this drug is acceptable.  Arkansas has not held an execution since 2005, while it has dealt with legal challenges.

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