Friday, April 25, 2014

Scaling the Courthouse Steps: Recent Challenges to the Oklahoma State Capital Punishment Secrecy Laws


This article's purpose is to briefly highlight for practitioners some of the news about Oklahoma's ongoing capital punishment dispute and the potential ramifications it could have on capital punishment practitioners. 

On April 21, the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a stay of execution order for death row inmates, Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, in the wake of a constitutional challenge to Oklahoma’s state law preventing inmates from learning the source of the drugs used to kill them.


The issue of what constitutes the lethal injection has become a hot topic issue following the allegedly “agonizing” death of convicted Ohio murderer and rapist Dennis McGuire, when he was administered a different two dose lethal injection after the Danish company supplying the previous drug refused to allow its product to be used in capital punishment.  The refusal of suppliers to provide the necessary drugs to perform traditional lethal injections has prompted several capital punishment jurisdictions, including Oklahoma, to find alternative drug cocktails.

However, Oklahoma is specifically under attack because it has legislation in place that prevents the disclosure of the origin companies of the lethal injection drugs being used.  This is contentious, because the fear is that with the lack of traditional suppliers the capital punishment states are being forced to resort to untested drug combinations, or less regulated pharmaceutical sources, and thus potentially leading to Eighth Amendment violations through overly painful executions as untested or contaminated drugs are used.


If the Oklahoma constitutional challenges prevail, it could be another potential tool for undermining capital punishment in that state and also in its sister capital punishment states. 


Shayn Tierney
Senior Staffer, Criminal Law Practitioner 

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