Wednesday, May 23, 2012

News agencies sue Idaho for access to executions

Idaho, Arizona, Washington, Montana and Nevada have conducted 15 lethal injections since a federal appeals court ruled in 2002 that every aspect of an execution should be open to witnesses. Half of each of those procedures were conducted behind closed doors, reported The Associated Press.

That means that a small group of witnesses, including members of news organizations who act as representatives of the public, do not see, for instance, the insertion of the IVs that deliver the fatal drug mixture.

The practice comes at a time when the method itself has drawn greater scrutiny, from whether the drugs are effective to whether the execution personnel are properly trained.

The AP and 16 other organizations are suing the state of Idaho to force officials to open the entirety of their executions, arguing that the news media and by extension the public has a First Amendment right to view all steps of lethal injections.

"This lawsuit is really all about obtaining access to the entire execution process for viewing purposes," Chuck Brown, the attorney representing the news organizations told the AP. "It's very important in a society such as ours to have full transparency in regards to the exercise of government authority."

Historically, the public was able to watch executions from start to finish,Trina Seitz, a death penalty expert at Appalachian State University told the AP.

Over time, executions became more private as technology advanced. Electrocutions, for example, can't be done in a rainy prison yard for safety reasons, so they were moved inside, Stuart Banner, a legal historian at UCLA's School of Law told the AP.

Still, journalists have always been reserved a spot among the witnesses, Seitz said, so they could report the death back to the public.

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