Arizona execution procedures challenged by First Amendment group
Published: May 22, 2012 at 5:01 pm
Taking a cue from a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge, a First Amendment group is asking a federal judge to let the public view more of an execution than what is permitted.
Dan Barr, an attorney with the Arizona First Amendment Coalition, wrote in a motion to Judge Neil V. Wake that the media and public have a “clearly established” right to view an execution from when the condemned is escorted into the death chamber and hooked up to intravenous lines. Right now, witnesses only view the portion of the execution from the reading of the death warrant to the inmate being declared dead, a span of about 10 to 15 minutes.
Watching the insertion of the IV lines will allow the public to judge whether there was any pain involved that rises to the level of cruel or unusual punishment, the standard for the procedure being unconstitutional.
Barr wrote that the 9th Circuit has already found in a 2002 California case that the public has a right to see the entire execution.
Ninth Circuit Judge Marsha Berzon lambasted the state for its secrecy surrounding executions in a May 15 decision to not stop the execution of Samuel Lopez, who was scheduled to be executed May 16. The Arizona Supreme Court eventually delayed his execution so three new members of the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency could get the proper training before hearing his plea for mercy.
Berzon criticized the state for having vague and useless logs for the March 8 execution of Robert Towery. Executioners had difficulty in placing the IV lines and took almost an hour and Berzon said there is no indication of how much pain he endured.
Berzon said the state “puts impenetrable roadblocks” in the way of obtaining information about executions and she hinted that someone should bring a First Amendment challenge.
Lopez’ attorneys asked Wake that they be allowed to watch the insertion of the lines in a motion filed May 15, but Barr went a step further by asking for the public to be allowed to view it.
Lopez’s attorneys first asked Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan in a letter to let them view the entire execution, but he refused on the grounds of maintaining the anonymity of the executioners.
Barr said the executioners can simply wear surgical masks to cover their faces.