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May 20, 2014

Georgia Supreme Court rejects attack on execution drug secrecy

As reported in this local article, yesterday the Georgia Supreme Court "upheld the constitutionality of a state law that keeps secret the identities of the makers and suppliers of Georgia’s lethal-injection drugs." Here is more about the ruling:

The court, in a 5-2 decision, rejected a challenge to the statute filed by lawyers for condemned killer Warren Hill. The ruling should clear the way for a number of executions, which have been on hold while the case was pending.

The reasons for offering privacy are “obvious,” Justice Harris Hines wrote for the majority. These include avoiding the risk of harassment or retaliation from persons related to the prisoners or from others who might disapprove of the execution “as well as simply offering those willing to participate whatever comfort or peace of mind that anonymity might offer,” Hines wrote.

In addition, “we believe that the same logic applies to the persons and entities involved in making the preparations for the actual execution, including those involved in procuring the execution drugs,” Hines wrote. “(W)ithout the confidentiality offered to execution participants by the statute … there is a significant risk that persons and entities necessary to the execution would become unwilling to participate.”

Benham, who authored the dissent, noted the recently botched execution in Oklahoma of inmate Clayton D. Lockett, who died of a heart attack after he writhed, gasped and struggled to lift his head after being declared unconscious on the lethal-injection gurney. “I write because I fear this state is on a path that, at the very least, denies Hill and other death row inmates their rights to due process and, at the very worst, leads to the macabre results that occurred in Oklahoma,” wrote Benham, who was joined by Justice Carol Hunstein. “There must be certainty in the administration of the death penalty.”...

In a statement, Hill’s attorneys said the ruling “effectively affords the state of Georgia to alter (its) lethal-injection protocol in any way it sees fit and to conceal from the public and even the courts the identity and provenance of the chemicals it intends to use to carry out executions.” Benham’s dissent, the statement said, “correctly found that this decision conflicts with basic requirements of due process.”

The full Georgia Supreme Court ruling in Owens v. Hill is available at this link.

May 20, 2014 at 08:21 AM | Permalink


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Here's hoping that some crusading whistle-blower will manage to divulge the names and identities of the makers and suppliers of Georgia's lethal injection drugs, especially if these drugs are anything like the ones that Oklahoma used in its botched up executions. It would do society and even the state of Georgia some good to publicly shame those who make and supply these drugs and the craven law-makers in the Georgia legislature, executive, and judiciary branches who cover up for these scoundrels.

Posted by: william r. delzell | May 20, 2014 9:15:17 AM

Seems a bit of a Catch 22 regarding proving the case here & on policy grounds at the very least, agree with the dissent on the balance as to secrecy here. I'm willing to accept the case legally very well might be close enough to go either way. The dissent either way is appreciated.

Posted by: Joe | May 20, 2014 2:45:09 PM

"those who make and supply these drugs and the craven law-makers in the Georgia
legislature, executive, and judiciary branches who cover up for these scoundrels."
by: william r. delzell |

Why are the drug makers, "scoundrels"?
Why are those who protect their identity, "craven"?

Posted by: Adamakis | May 20, 2014 9:48:14 PM

In answer to Admakis's question. Doctors and pharmacists have to abide by the Hyppocratic oath of, "Do no harm," which in this case could also mean, "Inflict no pain if you MUST supply execution drugs." The doctors who administer this drug are under the same Hyppocratic obligations to avoid the infliction of pain if they have to take part in executions. Under this rule, a doctor in Singapore who determines whether an inmate can take a flogging is worse than a doctor who takes part in an execution, because, at least in the excecution, the doctor is THEORETICALLY under obligation to prevent the infliction of physical pain, whereas the doctor in Singapore who determines if an inmate CAN take pain even against his or her will, is actively and INTENTIONALLY helping in the infliction of pain. In the Singapore example, the doctor who deliberately enables prison staff to inflict pain on an inmate is no better than a Nazi war criminal himself/herself.

But I digress. To get back to the doctors and pharmacists who participate in executions: they, at the very least, have a duty to make sure the execution is painless. Any doctor or pharmacist (or any unethical politician or prosecutor who KNOWINGLY allows an execution that does NOT use painless drugs to take place) is guilty of, at the very least, criminal negligence and, at worst, an INTENT to take part in torture. As much as I don't like to compare Americans to war criminals, this is an example where the shoe does fit. I hope this answers Adamakis's question.

Posted by: william r. delzell | May 21, 2014 9:20:56 AM

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