Arkansas Lethal Injection Law Deemed Unconstitutional

Arkansas has not carried out an execution since 2005, and it is unlikely that there will be another one in the near future since the state’s Supreme Court ruled on Friday that Arkansas’ lethal injection law is unconstitutional.

In a 5-2 decision, the Arkansas Supreme Court sided with 10 death row inmates who argued that the law violated the state’s separation of powers doctrine. Arkansas’ constitution states that only the legislature can set execution policy, but legislators handed over that authority to the Department of Corrections in the Method of Execution Act of 2009, letting them determine the chemicals used in lethal injections.

Unfortunately, this ruling does not abolish Arkansas’s death penalty, but  it does leave the state without a lawful way to carry out executions until a new law is passed. Since the court struck down the entire law about how the death penalty is administered, it not only stops lethal injection, but also prevents the state from using backup methods like electrocution.

It is not clear whether the state will appeal this ruling. Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe said he “will review what the options are, talk to the attorney general and key legislative leaders and will study the way other states have handled these rulings.”

The continued problems with lethal injection across the country, including in Tennessee, are symptomatic of the continued problems with the death penalty system as a whole–its lack of fairness, cost, and risk of executing an innocent person. Arkansas could spare itself a huge amount of money, bureaucracy, and human resources by ending the death penalty and applying the savings and resources to victims’ compensation and real crime prevention.

(Photo courtesy of: Arkansas Judiciary)

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