Arkansas Supreme Court upholds death penalty law rewrite | Arkansas Blog

Arkansas Supreme Court upholds death penalty law rewrite


The Arkansas Supreme Court today upheld in a 4-3 decision the 2013 law changing the state's procedures on lethal injection. It overturned Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen's decision that the law delegated too much discretion to Correction Department officials.

The state hasn't had an execution since 2005 and there are 32 people on Death Row. (Make it 33 with a conviction in Garland County today). The cumbersome appeals process makes it hard to say how soon a death warrant might be issued again, but Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge both approved of the ruling.

Griffen ruled last February that the new protocol could be applied retroactively but said it gave too much leeway to prison officials on the lethal drug cocktail. Prisons around the country have been struggling with a lack of availability of suitable drugs. The Correction Department doesn't yet have a formal new protocol in place.

The judges split on the question of authority, with a minority holding with Griffen that the law gave the Correction Department too much power to decide on the drugs used. The majority opinion, written by Justice Karen Baker, said the law had sufficient legislative guidelines for the Correction Department to follow.

Griffen, it happens, was on hand in his pastoral robe (he leads a Baptist church) when the Senate Judiciary Committee in February endorsed a bill to abolish the death penalty in Arkansas. The bill has progressed no further.

Here's the majority opinion.

Here's Justice Robin Wynne's dissent on the delegation of powers question, joined by Chief Justice Jim Hannah and Justice Paul Danielson.

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