AZ urges SCOTUS to let federal executions proceed

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Speaking on behalf of 14 states, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to grant the Trump administration’s request to allow federal executions to move forward for the first time in nearly two decades.

The U.S. Department of Justice on Dec. 2 asked the high court to overturn a lower court ruling that barred it from executing four federal death row inmates. The federal executions, the first of which was scheduled to take place on Dec. 9, would be the first since 1993.

A judge blocked the executions until the courts can resolve a challenge to the way the federal government carries out lethal injections, and an appellate court upheld that ruling.

At issue is the Justice Department’s decision to replace a three-drug “cocktail” of drugs used for lethal injections due to an inability to procure the substances, and replace it with a single drug, pentobarbital sodium. In her November ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled that the single-drug protocol violated a 1994 federal law requiring the feds must execute people according to the laws of the states where they committed their crimes.

Arizona and 13 other states on Tuesday filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court asking that the executions be allowed to proceed. Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office wrote the amicus brief on behalf of Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas and Utah, all of which use the death penalty. 

Deputy Solicitor General Rusty Crandell wrote in the filing that unnecessarily delaying the executions would violate victims’ rights and undermine states’ interests in enforcing the rule of law.

The Supreme Court has recognized that the rights of victims include the right to “proceedings free from unreasonable delay.” Numerous states, including Arizona, have codified victims’ rights, as well.

“These rights are assaulted each time proceedings are delayed or the finality of judgments is jeopardized, leading to secondary victimization that exacerbates the wounds of the criminal act,” Crandell wrote.

Crandell noted in the amicus brief that nine states use a single-drug protocol for lethal injections, and that five of the fourteen states – including Arizona – use only pentobarbital, which he described as “a tried-and-true protocol that does not threaten substantial pain.” From 2012 to 2013, Arizona executed eight people using the drug, with seven of those executions proceeding “uneventfully.” 

The only exception was the execution of Joseph Wood, “the facts of which are disputed,” Crandell wrote. Wood’s execution lasted for nearly two hours, during which he was seen gasping for air and snorting. 

Crandell also wrote that “making federal executions contingent on the use of state processes consumes limited state resources and puts at risk the confidentiality of state suppliers.”