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February 3, 2009

The changed timing of executions

Triggered by the fact that Tennessee has an execution scheduled for the middle of the night, the AP has this new piece headlined "States shift away from holding midnight executions."  Here are a few snippets from an interesting article: 

Many states have adjusted their schedules in recent years, and the vast majority of U.S. executions now occur during daylight or early evening hours when courts are more accessible, according to an Associated Press review.  Of the 34 states where the death penalty has been carried out since 1976, 15 states still execute inmates in the middle of the night.

One of them is Tennessee, where double-murderer Steve Henley is to die by injection at 1 a.m. CST Wednesday at Riverbend prison in Nashville.  The late hour has some victims' advocates in the state upset.  "It's a very long, stressful day. It just puts you completely off any routine. It's exhausting and really not necessary," said Verna Wyatt, executive director of You Have the Power, a Nashville-based crime victim advocacy group that has asked Tennessee corrections officials to give up midnight executions.

Corrections officials in states that still schedule executions between midnight and 3 a.m. argue that inmates are less likely to protest or become violent.  The state also has more time to fight late challenges....  Those issues haven't greatly complicated daytime or evening executions, according to victims' advocates and states that prefer those times. "We know other states are not facing extreme difficulties doing it (earlier)," Wyatt said. "So why not make it easier for everyone?"

Four of the five states that have carried out the most executions — Texas, Virginia, Florida and Oklahoma — set afternoon or evening times, while Missouri is the only state to still schedule executions at midnight, the AP found.

Texas changed its execution time in 1995, moving it from midnight to 6 p.m. or later to ease the pressure on lawyers filing late appeals and the judges who must rule on them, said Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.... Ohio quit midnight executions in 2001 partly to save thousands of dollars in overtime to prison workers.

February 3, 2009 at 07:57 AM | Permalink


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Awwwwwwwwwwww, the poor poor federal judges who have to be up in the middle of the night.

Since these are the same judges who reward last-minute delaying tactics, my sympathy is zilch.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 3, 2009 10:36:27 AM

The main reason for midnight executions is to allow the maximum time to get a literally last-minute stay vacated by a higher court and proceed with the execution, when the warrant specifies a single day.

Applying for a stay at the last minute is part of the strategy of obstruction.

The answer is to have multiple-day warrants. See here at C&C.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Feb 3, 2009 1:14:25 PM

The later in day execution time is also a problem if the state follows Texas' example of delaying the execution while last-minute appeals are pending (i.e., with no stay order or the appeal not turned down).

(Why in the world Texas does that is beyond me--no stay should equal execution.)

Posted by: federalist | Feb 3, 2009 1:50:40 PM

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