Saturday, July 21, 2012

Arkansas Supreme Ct. plays 'hide and seek' with the death penalty

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel contends that the state Supreme Court's resistance to the death penalty is obvious and a bit disingenuous, reported the Arkansas News Bureau.

In an interview with the News Bureau McDaniel said, “If the Supreme Court thinks … that executions should be declared unconstitutional, then they should do that. But instead, since the day I became attorney general they’ve simply erected one procedural hurdle after another to ensure that we can’t execute those who have committed the most heinous crimes in Arkansas.”

Numerous lawsuits and court rulings have prevented the state from executing any prisoners since 2005. Most recently, the state Supreme Court ruled last month that a 2009 law authorizing the director of the state Department of Correction to decide what chemicals are used in lethal injections gave the director too much discretion, in violation of the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of state government.

Sodium thiopentol, previously one of three drugs used in a three-drug cocktail in executions across the country, has been in short supply because its American manufacturer has stopped producing the drug for use in executions, reported the News Bureau.

That shortage led to the Arkansas Department of Corrections’ decision to begin buying the drug from a British supplier, but last year the state surrendered its supply to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration because the drug had not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Attorneys for the inmates had argued that there was nothing in the law to stop prison officials from using chemicals that would cause a painful death, such as household cleaners.

McDaniel told the News Bureau that the argument was “ludicrous.”

Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley said he shares McDaniel’s frustration with the court.

“In some respects I tend to believe that if they’d just go ahead and rule it unconstitutional instead of just playing this game of hide and seek that they’ve been playing, we’d be a lot better off,” Jegley told the News Bureau.

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