Lawyers for death-row inmates say recent changes to Arizona’s procedures for carrying out the death penalty didn’t do enough to confront abuses in the state’s power to decide the methods and amounts of drugs used in executions.
The state released the revisions to the procedures earlier this month as it battles an inmate lawsuit that challenges the way the state handles the death penalty. Executions in Arizona remain on hold until the lawsuit is resolved.
Attorneys for the condemned inmates said in court papers filed Friday that the state’s corrections director, under the revisions, still has complete freedom to deviate from the written procedures.
They say the revisions let the corrections director change timeframes for disclosing the types and amounts of drugs when he determines that there’s an unexpected contingency. The lawyers for inmates said this particular revision is meaningless as an accountability check because it depends on the corrections director’s subjective conclusion.
The state says the revisions take away the power of the corrections director to deviate from key aspects of the execution process, such as doses of drugs, but they do let him depart from the procedures in a limited way when addressing unforeseen contingencies.
The lawyers for the inmates said the revisions wouldn’t have done anything to prevent the problems experienced during the July 2014 execution of Joseph Wood, who was given 15 doses of sedative midazolam and a painkiller and who took nearly two hours to die. His attorney said the execution was botched.
Executions in Arizona were put on hold after Wood’s death.
The inmates’ lawyers criticized a portion of the revised procedures that said the corrections director is free to change the quantities or types of drugs used in executions, even if he makes that decision on the day of the execution. They say this is unconstitutional because same-day notices deny prisoners a chance to challenge the methods of executions.
Attorneys for the state said in court papers that no court has ever found Arizona’s execution procedures or how they are carried out to be unconstitutional.
About a month ago, the state agreed to settle part of the lawsuit that claimed the use of the midazolam doesn’t ensure that inmates won’t feel the pain caused by another drug in a three-drug combination. The state eliminated its use of midazolam because its supply had expired and another supplier couldn’t be found amid pressure from death penalty opponents.
Similar challenges to the death penalty are playing out in other parts of the country that seek more transparency about where states get their execution drugs.
States are struggling to obtain execution drugs because European pharmaceutical companies began blocking the use of their products for lethal injections.