Arizona Lacks Supply of Execution Drugs, "Presently Incapable of Carrying Out" Executions

In a court filing in the federal lawsuit challenging its execution procedures, Arizona officials have declared that the state does not have the drugs necessary to carry out an execution, and is currently unable to obtain them. The filing states, “the Department’s lack of the drugs and its current inability to obtain these drugs means that the Department is presently incapable of carrying out an execution.” Arizona has four separate multi-drug protocols it may use in executions. One involves the use of the anti-anxiety drug, midazolam, to sedate the prisoner before the other drugs are administered. The other three protocols involve the use of either pentobarbital or sodium thiopental. The state used midazolam in the botched execution of Joseph Wood in 2014, which was the last execution conducted in Arizona. The state attempted to import 1,000 vials of sodium thiopental from a supplier in India, but the shipment was seized at Phoenix airport by the Food and Drug Administration, which said the importation of pharmaceuticals without an approved medical purpose violated federal law. In its recent court filing, Arizona announced that it will abandon the use of midazolam and indicated that it has been unable to obtain the other sedatives. After Wood’s execution, death row inmates challenged the state’s lethal injection protocol, which called for midazolam followed by a paralytic drug, on the grounds that, “midazolam is not reliable as a sedative, which means the paralytic will mask the inmate’s pain.” In May, U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake permitted that claim to move forward, effectively delaying all executions until after the state’s supply of midazolam had expired. Dale Baich, an attorney for the Arizona prisoners challenging the protocol, said, “As we have said all along, midazolam is not an appropriate drug for use in executions….Arizona now becomes the second state to abandon the experimental use of this drug in executions. Now, more than ever, we need to ensure that Arizona’s execution protocol comports with the constitutional requirements for a humane execution….We need a much more specific, clear plan that has been vetted by the court and is understood by the public.” A hearing will be held on June 29.

(C. McDaniels, “There’s A Standoff Between States And The Feds Over Illegal Execution Drugs,” BuzzFeed, June 26, 2016; C. Geidner, “Arizona ‘Presently Incapable Of Carrying Out An Execution,’ State Lawyers Say,” BuzzFeed, June 24, 2016; M. Kiefer, “As another drug becomes unavailable, execution by lethal injection in Arizona remains uncertain,” The Arizona Republic, June 24, 2016; D. Baich, “Attorney Statement in Response to ADC’s Announcement About Changes to Its Execution Protocol,” June 24, 2016.) See Lethal Injection. Read the joint filing from June 24, 2016. Read the state’s notice of change to the lethal injection protocol.