ARKANSAS (USA): SUPREME COURT STRIKES DOWN EXECUTION LAW
June 22, 2012: The Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the stateâ€™s lethal injection law as unconstitutional because it delegated too much authority to the Department of Corrections.
In a 5-2 decision, the court sided with 10 death row inmates who argued that, under Arkansas's constitution, only the Legislature can set execution policy, and that legislators violated the state's separation of powers doctrine when it voted to give that authority to the prison system in the Method of Execution Act of 2009.
The 2009 law says a death sentence is to be carried out by lethal injection of one or more chemicals that the director of the Department of Correction chooses.
Death row inmate Jack Harold Jones Jr. sued the head of the correction department in 2010, challenging the constitutionality of the law. 9 other inmates have since joined the suit, asking that the law be struck down.
There aren't any pending executions, and the state hasn't put anyone to death since 2005, in part because of legal challenges like this one.
The ruling does not invalidate Arkansasâ€™s death penalty but does leave the state without a lawful way to carry out executions until a new law is passed.
Associate Justice Jim Gunter, writing for the majority, said that the law governing executions failed to include reasonable guidelines for executive branch agencies to follow when deciding on an execution protocol: "The statute provides no guidance and no general policy with regard to the procedures for the (Arkansas Department of Corrections) to implement lethal injections.â€ť
There are currently 40 prisoners on Arkansasâ€™s death row. The decision will delay any state executions until legislative action can occur, which would be January 2013 unless Gov. Mike Beebe calls the General Assembly into executive session to deal with the matter, but Gov. Beebe (D) said 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. (Sources: Associated Press, The Citywire, DPIC, 22/06/2012)