Arguments over drugs could delay executions indefinitely
Governor has the option to issue a moratorium on all executions
With Arkansas’ supply of lethal injection drugs expiring soon, the future of capital punishment in the state is unclear.
The state had planned to execute eight death row inmates in a span of 11 days in April before its supply of sedatives used in the process expired. The clock was ticking.
In the midst of legal battles with drug suppliers, inmates fighting to avoid executions and courts issuing temporary stays, Arkansas carried out only four of the eight scheduled executions.
According to J.R. Davis, spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, there will not be any more executions this month.
Davis said the state will work on procuring the drug again and will reschedule the executions when the stays and court cases are resolved.
Securing new doses of the drugs will be a challenge for Arkansas, but the state could also change the method used to execute inmates or halt them all at once.
Find other drugs?
Death sentences are still being handed down, but many states are not scheduling executions because authorities don’t have the drugs needed for lethal injection.
And pharmaceutical companies are now mounting legal challenges against the use of their products in executions, so Arkansas could fall into a years-long, expensive battle with those companies.
One manufacturer, West-Ward Pharmaceuticals, filed a brief in support of the eight inmates the state planned to execute in April, saying it tries to ensure its midazolam isn’t used in executions.
If states can’t get supplies of the three drugs needed for the lethal injection cocktail currently used, authorities may have to switch to a one-drug lethal injection and use drugs such as sodium thiopental and pentobarbital.
But not without running into some issues.
Manufacturers and European countries started withholding sodium thiopental and pentobarbital this decade, trying to prevent the use of them in executions.
The US Food and Drug Administration also hasn’t approved the use of sodium thiopental in the United States. The FDA recently seized a shipment of 1,000 vials that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice had purchased for its executions.
The Arkansas governor could also issue a moratorium on all executions.
Governors in other states have taken that step in order to reconsider their state’s death penalty or ask for a comprehensive review of the process.
One of them is Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who stopped all executions in 2015.
The governor said the review was necessary and that his decision was not a way to express sympathy to the inmates.
“This decision is based on a flawed system that has been proven to be an endless cycle of court proceedings as well as ineffective, unjust and expensive,” Wolf said in a statement, The Philadelphia Tribune reported.
Currently, Colorado, Oregon and Washington also have moratoriums in place against the death penalty.
While the 31 states with death penalty laws use lethal injection drugs as the main method for executions, some of them have options.
In 18 states, authorities have at least one alternative, such as the gas chamber, hanging or a firing squad.
In Alabama, Florida and Virginia, inmates can choose the electric chair.
Only Utah and Oklahoma allow inmates to choose a firing squad.
In 2010, Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by a firing squad in Utah. He was the third inmate in that state to be executed by that method since 1977.
It’s the last option for inmates in Oklahoma if all the other methods are either unavailable or ruled unconstitutional by a judge.
But in Arkansas there’s only one other option. The state may use electrocution if the lethal injection is “invalidated by a final and unappealable court order,” a state code says.
If authorities want to use another method, it would require lawmakers to change current state law or pass a new law.
State legislators in Mississippi passed a bill in April authorizing a firing squad, electrocution and the gas chamber as other means of execution if lethal injection was not available. The law takes effect next year.