Glance: Execution drug secrecy in 5 US states
An Associated Press survey of America’s 32 death penalty states found that the vast majority refuse to disclose the source of their execution drugs. Several states have been struggling to find new sources of execution drugs because drugmakers that oppose capital punishment — many based in Europe — have stopped selling to U.S. prisons and corrections departments. Some states with laws shielding information about execution drugs and policies and the challenges to those laws:
Law: Shields the “identifying information of any person or entity who participates in or administers the execution of a death sentence and the identifying information of any person or entity that manufactures, supplies, compounds, or prescribes the drugs, medical supplies, or medical equipment utilized in the execution of a death sentence.”
Challenge: A state court last year stayed an execution after a death row inmate challenged the law. The case is pending before the state Supreme Court, which has effectively halted executions.
Law: Identities of people “who participate or perform ancillary functions in an execution of the death sentence, either directly or indirectly, shall remain strictly confidential and the identities of those persons and information about those persons which could lead to the determination of the identities of those persons shall not be subject to public disclosure in any manner.”
Challenge: Louisiana’s attempts at secrecy are the subject of an ongoing federal lawsuit. A bill allowing the state to withhold the names of companies that make the drugs is making its way through the state Legislature.
Laws: Shield the “identities of members of the execution team, as defined in the execution protocol of the department of corrections.” Last year, the Missouri Department of Corrections amended its protocol to show that the execution team consists of “contracted medical personnel” and department employees. The phrasing allows the department to include the pharmacy that makes its execution drug as part of the team and not subject to public scrutiny.
Challenge: A lawsuit filed on behalf of 16 inmates claims Missouri’s refusal to name the drugmaker, even privately to attorneys, makes it impossible to know whether the drug is suitable for an execution, or whether its use could violate the constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. Several states, including Missouri, use compounded execution drugs purchased from unnamed pharmacies. Courts so far have allowed most executions to move forward. Missouri has executed one death row inmate each month since November. Another Missouri inmate, Russell Bucklew, is scheduled for execution on May 21.
Law: Shields the “identity of all persons who participate in or administer the execution process and persons who supply the drugs, medical supplies or medical equipment for the execution. ... The purchase of drugs, medical supplies or medical equipment necessary to carry out the execution shall not be subject to the provisions of The Oklahoma Central Purchasing Act.”
Challenge: After the Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned a district court ruling that would have required the state to reveal the source of its execution, the state set out to proceed with the executions of two death row inmates who had sued the state. Oklahoma revealed five options it could use in executions. In the most recent execution where inmate Clayton Lockett died of a heart attack after the lethal injection was called off, the state used a combination of midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride.
Position: Texas announced that it found a new source of compounded pentobarbital but will not reveal the identity of the supplier.
Challenge: The U.S. Supreme Court previously declined to halt the execution of an inmate who sought to get the Texas prison system to disclose more information about where it gets lethal-injection drugs. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice argues that threats against execution drugmakers are escalating, though lawyers for the agency offered no new evidence of threats during a brief court hearing. Attorneys for death row inmates say they need to know the name of the supplier to ensure the drugs’ quality and to protect the inmates from unconstitutional pain and suffering.