Arkansas Supreme Court Strikes Death Penalty

by tylercook on October 28, 2012

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In what is likely to be a short-term abatement of executions in the state, the Arkansas Supreme Court has declared the current statute under which executions are conducted to be unconstitutional.

In a 5-2 decision, the court declared that Arkansas’s 2009 death penalty law is unconstitutional, as it ceded authority and discretion in executions to the Department of Correction. The Arkansas constitution states that only the legislature can set execution policy.

Justice Jim Gunter wrote in the majority opinion:


It is evident to this court that the Legislature has abdicated its responsibility and passed to the executive branch, in this case the Arkansas Department of Correction, the unfettered discretion to determine all protocol and procedures, most notably the chemicals to be used, for a state execution.


In the dissenting opinion, Justice Karen Black argued that the correction department’s discretion is not “unfettered” since it is bound by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the state constitutional provisions that guard against cruel and unusual punishment. “Arkansas is left no method of carrying out the death penalty in cases where it has been lawfully imposed,” she wrote in the dissenting opinion in which Special Justice Byron Freeland joined.

The 2009, state law mandates that a death sentence is to be carried out by lethal injection of one or more chemicals chosen by the director of the Department of Correction. The law also states that in the event the lethal injection law is found to be unconstitutional, death sentences will be carried out by electrocution, which was the method used previously under a 1983 statute.

“The justices did not declare that the death penalty is unconstitutional in Arkansas or that lethal injection is unconstitutional…,” prisons spokeswoman Dina Tyler said. She continued, “What the court is talking about are the mechanics.”

Tyler said that the correctional department could not currently execute anyone, as the court’s decision struck down the guidelines for lethal injection procedures.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe has no plans to call the legislature into special session to address the state’s need to overhaul the death penalty law.

“The death penalty is still the law in Arkansas, but the Department of Correction now has no legal way to carry out an execution until a new statute is established,” Beebe said. He went on to say that he hopes to have a proposed remedy in the next few months after meeting with the state’s attorney general and legislative leaders.

Gov. Beebe has set a number of execution dates since taking office in 2007, but courts have put a stop to all of them, including one on March 16, 2010, where Jack Harold Jones Jr.  Jones had filed suit, challenging the state’s 2009 execution law. A court halted his execution and nine other inmates later joined the suit, asking that the law be struck down.

Arkansas adopted lethal injection as its method of capital punishment in 1983. While awaiting new legislative action, it is widely anticipated among the Arkansas defense bar that the state will revert to using the 1983 statute.


This article was composed by Karl Stockton for the team at Kanetix; view and to see the auto insurance coverage Ontario residents are familiar with.




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