Arkansas Supreme Court nixes execution law (Updated)

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 128 views 

The Arkansas Supreme Court sided with death row inmates in a ruling that strikes down the state’s execution law.

The decision will delay any state executions until legislative action can occur, which would be January 2013 unless Gov. Mike Beebe called the General Assembly into executive session to deal with the matter.

Ten inmates argued that the Arkansas legislature must set policy on state executions, but in 2009 lawmakers ceded aspects of the decision-making to Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) officials, such as which chemicals can be used for lethal injections.

Justice Jim Gunter, writing for the majority in the decision, said this provision deemed the statute unconstitutional.

“It is evident to this court that the legislature has abdicated its responsibility and passed to the executive branch, in this case the ADC, the unfettered discretion to determine protocol and procedures, most notably the chemicals to be used, for a state execution,” wrote Gunter, a former prosecutor. “The MEA fails to provide reasonable guidelines for the selection of chemicals to be used during lethal injection and it fails to provide any general policy with regard to the lethal-injection procedure.”

Two justices dissented in the decision.

Justice Karen Baker wrote the minority opinion, which said, “The majority holds that granting discretion to the Director of the Department of Correction to administer the death penalty is a violation of the separation-of-powers provision of our constitution. With this holding, Arkansas becomes the only state to find such a violation. In addition, Arkansas is left no method of carrying out the death penalty in cases where it has been lawfully imposed.”

Gov. Mike Beebe (D) was out of the country on a trade mission to France.

He did speak to reporters saying he has no plan to call a special session. Beebe said he will review what the options are, talk to the Attorney General, key legislative leaders, and study the way other states have handled these rulings.

“He hopes to have a proposed remedy in the next few months,” said spokeswoman Stacey Hall. “The death penalty is still the law in Arkansas, but the Department of Correction now has no legal way to carry out an execution until a new statute is established.”

Aaron Sadler, spokesman for Attorney General Dustin McDaniel (D), said “We respect the Court’s determination in this matter, and we will discuss with our clients about how to move forward in light of this decision.”

Link here for a PDF of the majority and minority opinions.