A Pulaski County circuit judge said Friday he would enjoin the state from using new protocols from putting state prisoners to death.
Act 139 of 2013, like a previous lethal-injection law that was struck down, gives too much discretion to the state Department of Correction in violation of the separation of powers doctrine of the state constitution, Judge Wendell Griffen said.
In rulings in a lawsuit by death-row inmates challenging the law, Griffen agreed with the state that the law could be retroactively applied but ruled for the plaintiffs that the law gave too much authority to the Department of Correction. He enjoined enforcement of the law but did not immediately issue a written order.
"It was a partial victory. We had two arguments, and winning one is good," said attorney Jeff Rosenzweig of Little Rock. "I’m anticipating the state will appeal."
Rosenzweig is attorney for death-row inmates Don Davis, Terrick Nooner, Jason McGehee, Stacey Johnson, Jack Jones, Andrew Sasser, Bruce Ward, Kenneth Williams and Marcel Williams.
No inmate has been put to death in Arkansas since 2005.
On April 26 of last year, a lawsuit was filed challenging Arkansas’ new lethal-injection law adopted by the 2013 Legislature in response to a state Supreme Court decision that declared a 2009 law unconstitutional.
The court ruled that the 2009 law gave the Department of Correction too much discretion in choosing how to carry out the procedure.
Act 139 of last year set new protocols and procedures for prison officials to use in putting prisoners to death. The attorney general’s office petitioned the Supreme Court to lift the plaintiffs’ stays of execution in March, shortly after Act 139 became law, arguing that the new law removed the issues that the inmates had challenged.
The high court declared the stays of execution were no longer in effect and said the inmates would have to go to circuit court if they wanted to challenge the new law.
The lawsuit contends the new law violates death-row inmates’ right to die quickly by allowing prison officials to use a slow-acting barbiturate in a mix of chemicals for lethal injections. The law in effect when the crimes were committed required the state to use fast-acting chemicals, and the new law violates "the well-settled state law principle that a sentence must be in accordance with the statutes in effect on the date of the crime," according to the lawsuit.
"I have aggressively battled to uphold death penalty sentences, and I will appeal the decision," Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said Friday. "This is yet another example of the practical and legal hurdles complicating our state’s execution process."