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April 24, 2014

Oklahoma Supreme Court allows executions to get back on track

As reported in this local article, headlined "Oklahoma Supreme Court lets executions go forward; Justices lift stay after ruling inmates don’t have right to know source of drugs," a controversial execution stay put in plae in the Sooner State earlier this week will no longer mean executions in the states have to come much later.  Here are the basics:

The Oklahoma Supreme Court Wednesday evening ruled two convicted murderers’ executions can go forward. Justices had voted 5-4 Monday to halt the executions — until a legal challenge could be resolved.

Justices on Wednesday ruled unanimously against the inmates on that legal issue and let the executions proceed. Clayton Derrell Lockett and Charles Frederick Warner are now scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection next Tuesday.

Both complained in February that they need to know who was supplying the execution drugs. They contended they needed the information in order to challenge their executions as cruel and unusual punishment. Under state law, the identity of the drug supplier is confidential. An Oklahoma County judge in March — ruling in favor of the murderers — declared that law unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court Wednesday reversed the Oklahoma County judge’s ruling, saying the secrecy provision does not violate the inmates’ constitutional right of access to the courts. Justices noted that “the inmates have been provided with the identity of the drug or drugs to be used in the executions and with the dosages to be injected.”

The ruling Wednesday appears to put an end to what Attorney General Scott Pruitt had called a constitutional crisis. The Supreme Court had never before in its history blocked an execution. Both Gov. Mary Fallin and the attorney general complained after Monday’s ruling that the Supreme Court had overstepped its constitutional authority.

Normally, in Oklahoma, the Supreme Court handles civil issues and the Court of Criminal Appeals handles criminal matters. The Court of Criminal Appeals had not blocked the executions and Lockett was supposed to be put to death Tuesday. Faced with conflicting court orders, the governor on Tuesday rescheduled Lockett’s execution for next week.

Lockett, now 38, was convicted of the 1999 fatal shooting of Stephanie Neiman. Warner, 46, was convicted of killing his girlfriend’s baby daughter, Adriana Waller, in 1997.

In a strongly worded concurring opinion Wednesday, Supreme Court Justice Steven Taylor called the inmates’ challenge frivolous and a complete waste of the court’s time and resources.  Taylor has repeatedly contended the Supreme Court never should have taken up the inmates’ challenge at all.  He contends justices should have sent the issue to the Court of Criminal Appeals.

He wrote Wednesday the inmates had no right to information about where the execution drugs came from. “If they were being executed in the electric chair, they would have no right to know whether OG&E or PSO were providing the electricity,” he wrote.  “If they were being hanged, they would have no right to know whether it be by cotton or nylon rope; or if they were being executed by firing squad, they would have no right to know whether it be by Winchester or Remington ammunition.”

April 24, 2014 at 11:30 AM | Permalink


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The judge hit the nail on the head. He should speak plainer though and not employ the word "execute" when the real word is "kill". He should have just ended his Order with the sentence. "Thou shalt kill ASAP."

Posted by: Liberty1st | Apr 24, 2014 11:37:29 AM

“the inmates have been provided with the identity of the drug or drugs to be used in the executions and with the dosages to be injected.”

The reporting on this issue has been a bit confused & I have seen at least one article suggesting the "identity" of the drug wasn't provided, at least at an earlier point in the litigation. The specifics of the issue here are a bit confusing.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 24, 2014 11:53:14 AM

The concurring opinion seems to miss the point. In the electric chair analogy, they want to know who designed the chair to see if an independent investigation could determine some flaw not known to the state (or not disclosed by the state) that would make the procedure violate the Constitution. It makes it different from knowing who provides the electricity because the answer to their question has a reasonable bearing on what the results would be.

Posted by: Erik M | Apr 24, 2014 11:56:29 AM

In a prior entry comment, I tried to be temperate, by saying, no standing, no justiciability.

The Justice used the harsher and more threatening "frivolous," in dismissing the appeal. The implication is that the lawyer violated a Rule of Conduct and could sanctioned.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 24, 2014 2:22:21 PM

The Judge is wrong if he thinks it's sanctionable. It's not a settled area of law, so there's certainly a good faith argument for expanding the law. The Judge just disagrees with the theory, which is fine, but why we have motions, trials, and appeals.

Posted by: Erik M | Apr 24, 2014 3:15:17 PM

The judge does seem to be mixing up the materials of an execution with the suppliers of those materials. I am agnostic about a right to knowledge of the former but see no reason (without some other reason for skepticism) about the latter.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Apr 24, 2014 6:12:48 PM

Erik M: "The Judge just disagrees with the theory, which is fine, but why we have motions, trials, and appeals."

-- Is an execution in 2014 for an aggravated murder in 1997, fine?
<<< Ask any non-lawyer. >>>

Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 25, 2014 10:54:36 AM

I missed a word in my sentence. I was trying to right "that's why we have motions, trials, and appeals." Not sure if that clears up your question, but I wanted to make that clear.

The years aren't really dispositive on the question. If the trial was procedurally correct and the law correctly applies to the defendant (in the sense of factual guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, factual proof of aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt, of a category of cases that are channeled to where the death penalty is narrowly applied and truly appropriate, and that the aggravating factors truly outweigh the mitigating factors), then the execution could happen a year later. That generally doesn't happen because both attorneys and reviewing courts make mistakes.

However, how that execution is conducted is an entirely different question. Just like the trial has to be done correctly, the execution has to comply with Constitutional standards. That's what these motions were for.

Posted by: Erik M | Apr 26, 2014 10:26:29 AM

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