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September 9, 2012

Montana state judge finds state's execution protocol unconstitutional

As reported in this local article, late last week a state "judge [said] Montana must change the way it executes prisoners after ruling that the current method is unconstitutional." Here is more:

The decision came in the case of Ronald Allen Smith, a Canadian citizen from Red Deer, Alberta, who is awaiting execution.  The American Civil Liberties Union had filed the case in 2008, arguing that lethal injection protocol amounts to cruel and unusual punishment under the U.S. and Montana constitutions.

Helena District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock ruled Thursday that aspects of it fail to pass constitutional muster.  He said the protocol doesn’t ensure qualified individuals are making key decisions, such as verifying that the inmate is unconscious and incapable of feeling pain before administration of the death drugs.  Sherlock said the warden is charged with that decision, although there is no training requirement in place to ensure he can properly determine the inmate is unconscious.

The judge said the job requirements for the setup officer are also lacking.  And he pointed out there is inconsistency between what state law requires of an execution procedure, and what the Department of Corrections manual says.

But the judge said needed changes can be easily made by the state — although it could require legislative changes if the state law on the method needs adjustments to comply with requirements.  The Legislature meets again in January.

State assistant attorney general C. Mark Fowler said his office is studying the opinion and deciding what options there are to modify the protocol.  In the meantime, no executions are scheduled.  “Judge Sherlock’s ruling upholds most of Montana’s lethal injection protocol as constitutional,” Fowler said in a statement.  “Modifying the three areas of concern identified by the court can, in the judge’s words, be done ‘easily’ and ‘quickly’ and ‘if done, the modified protocol could not be found in violation of the Montana Constitution.'”...

The ACLU said it thinks changes to state law by the legislature will be needed. Such changes, which require a bill to pass both chambers of the legislature and clear the governor’s desk, will be a more time-consuming and difficult task for the state than a simple rewrite of Corrections Department procedures.  “We are pleased that the court recognizes the insufficiencies of the state’s lethal injection protocol and that those insufficiencies create a situation where executions could inflict pain and suffering,” ACLU attorney Ron Waterman said in a statement.  “If the state insists on carrying out this most extreme sentence, it has an obligation to do so in a manner that upholds the U.S.and Montana Constitutions.”

September 9, 2012 at 10:36 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Well, then, Montana ought to go ahead and make whatever changes are necessary to get their lethal-injection protocol upheld--much as California should have done long ago.

Posted by: alpino | Sep 10, 2012 1:12:29 AM

|| The American Civil Liberties Union had filed the case in 2008, arguing that lethal injection protocol amounts to cruel and unusual punishment under the U.S. and Montana constitutions. ||

|| The ACLU said it thinks changes to state law by the legislature will be needed. ||

Does anyone yet respect the unconscious opinions of the ACLU?

Posted by: Adamakis | Sep 10, 2012 2:36:50 PM

I'm with the ACLU on some pure freedom-of-speech issues. Most of the rest of their advocacy is utterly execrable.

Posted by: alpino | Sep 10, 2012 6:26:22 PM

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