Arkansas Supreme Court Holds Lethal Injection Law Unconstitutional

Arkansas state sealOn June 22, the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the state’s lethal injection law as unconstitutional because it delegated too much authority to the Department of Corrections. In a 5-2 decision, the court sided with 10 death row inmates who argued that, under Arkansas's constitution, only the Legislature can set execution policy, and that legislators violated the state's separation of powers doctrine when it voted to give that authority to the prison system in the Method of Execution Act of 2009. The ruling does not invalidate Arkansas’s death penalty but does leave the state without a lawful way to carry out executions until a new law is passed.  Associate Justice Jim Gunter, writing for the majority, said that the law governing executions failed to include reasonable guidelines for executive branch agencies to follow when deciding on an execution protocol: "The statute provides no guidance and no general policy with regard to the procedures for the (Arkansas Department of Corrections) to implement lethal injections.” There are currently 40 prisoners on Arkansas’s death row. The last execution carried out in the state was in 2005.

The court found issues raised by the inmates regarding the state's purchase of sodium thiopental from a company in England to be moot because the state had destroyed those drugs. 

("Court strikes down Arkansas law on execution methods," CNN, June 22, 2012; Hobbs v. Jones, et al., No. 11-1128, (Ark. June 22, 2012)). See Lethal Injection. Listen to DPIC's podcast on Lethal Injection.