Executions Stayed As Secrecy Issue Is Considered by Oklahoma Supreme Court

UPDATE: On April 23, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that the inmates facing execution do not have a right to be informed of the source of the drugs that will be used in their executions. The Court lifted the stays of execution, which means they could occur on April 29. -Earlier: On April 21, the Oklahoma Supreme Court indefinitely stayed the executions of Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner so it could resolve the constitutionality of a state law making the sources of its lethal injection drugs a secret. The Supreme Court had originally directed the state Court of Criminal Appeals to stay the executions, but that court declined because it said the secrecy challenge was not part of a criminal appeal. Acting under its authority as the ultimate arbiter of jurisdictional issues, the Supreme Court reluctantly assumed control over the entire case and granted the stays, lest the inmates be left “with no access to the courts” as their executions loomed. On April 22, Gov. Mary Fallin rescheduled Lockett’s execution for April 29, questioning the authority of the Supreme Court to grant the stays, although it is unlikely the underlying issue will be resolved by that time. Madeline Cohen, an assistant federal public defender involved in the case, said, “We hope this case will lead to full transparency in Oklahoma’s lethal injection practices and that no more executions will take place until basic questions about those practices are answered.”

The Supreme Court declined a request from the Attorney General to reconsider its decision.

(Z. Branstetter, “Gov. Mary Fallin issues 7-day stay for inmate’s execution,” Tulsa World, April 23, 2014). See Lethal Injection.

Excerpts from the Supreme Court’s opinion:

“This case presents a very narrow question: whether these appellants should have some access to an appellate tribunal for consideration of a stay of execution based upon the consideration of grave first impression constitutional issues regarding the manner in which their lives will be taken.”

“The majority of the Court of Criminal Appeals refused to exercise this Court’s order and to address the merits of the stay.”

“[W]e refuse to violate our oaths of office and to leave the appellants with no access to the courts, their constitutionally guaranteed measure.”

(Lockett v. Evans, No. 112,741 (Okla. Sup. Ct. April 21, 2014) (per curiam)).