In the past year, a startling number of states have adopted secrecy measures surrounding the procurement of lethal injection drugs. These new laws, passed in 13 states since January 2013, allow states to keep the quality and nature of lethal injection drugs, as well as the identities of compounding pharmacies providing these drugs, from the public. These laws, which undoubtedly increase the risk of botched executions and put countless death row inmates in danger of having their basic human and Constitutional rights violated, have become the center of nationwide speculation.
The onset of this new trend dates back to a 2011 decision by the European Union that banned the exportation of lethal injection drugs to the United States. As capital punishment became increasingly unpopular internationally, fewer and fewer countries were willing to provide drugs for executions. Eventually, very few formal channels were available to states practicing the death penalty, leading to a nationwide shortage. As a result, many states have resorted to questionable behavior in order to procure new drugs, purchasing from compounding pharmacies and other unregulated drug producers. These new untested and unregulated substitute drugs have been the cause of horrific botched executions.
As incidences of botched executions have increased, rather than increasing safety measures or reevaluating the capital punishment system, state governments have retreated behind increased secrecy. Missouri, Florida, Texas, and Oklahoma, all states with recent executions, are among the 13 who have passed secrecy measures. Citizens requesting information about this process have been repeatedly denied.
Investigative journalists, as they search for ways to navigate around these veils of secrecy, have found information that leads to further questions. Last Wednesday, Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) hosted a Google Hangout with Tulsa World enterprise editor Ziva Branstetter, St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Chris McDaniel, The Tennessean criminal justice reporter Brian Hass, and The Lens in New Orleans investigative reporter Della Hasselle – each of whom have been investigating execution secrecy laws in their state. During the discussion, the reporters shared some alarming findings; the most troubling pertained to methods used to obtain drugs in Oklahoma and Missouri.
These findings have led to legal challenges to secrecy laws. On May 15, 2014, two lawsuits were filed against Missouri. The first lawsuit – filed by the Associated Press, the Guardian, the Kansas City Star, the Springfield News-Leader, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch – argues that the Missouri Department of Correction’s new secrecy policy prevents public oversight of the state’s capital punishment system and violates the First and Fourteenth Amendment’s “qualified right of access to government proceedings and records.” The second lawsuit – filed by St. Louis Public Radio’s Chris McDaniel and the ACLU – argues that Missouri’s secrecy policy violates the state’s “Sunshine Law,” which makes public governmental bodies’ records open to the public.
In the midst of this controversy, Missouri is still moving forward with executions. Should his current stay of execution be overturned and his clemency petition be denied, John Middleton is set to be executed on Wednesday, July 16, with a drug of dubious nature and quality. Learn more about Middleton's case.
As more is revealed about the state of the death penalty in the United States, it is clearer than ever that capital punishment does not align with the standards and values we apply to the rest of our lives. Please sign our petition Halt All Executions. Together, we can ensure the death penalty is abolished.
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