Court upholds duty to public

SOUTH BEND TRIBUNE

A Court of Appeals ruling earlier this month put another wrinkle in Indiana’s process for lethal injection.

The court ruled that the state cannot execute prisoners with its chosen lethal injection cocktail, which has never been used in an execution in the United States. That’s because it says that Indiana didn’t follow proper procedures when it chose the drugs.

The decision has been called a win for death row prisoners who do not want to be executed with an experimental batch of drugs. But the ruling should also serve as a reminder that lethal injection must be carried out according to protocol and in the bright light of transparency. And this isn’t about whether or not you support the death penalty. It’s about the duty to the public that comes with carrying out this punishment.

The ruling comes at a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain drugs used in executions.

Indiana Department of Correction spokesman Doug Garrison recently told the Indianapolis Star that many drugmakers fear being identified as the provider of an execution drug.

Such difficulties led to a last-minute provision, slipped into the state’s proposed budget, that authorizes the state to purchase new lethal injection drugs used in executions, while preserving the anonymity of drug suppliers. The measure bars the release of information that could reveal the identity of a manufacturer or supplier. That prohibition also applies to attorneys seeking the information in civil and criminal trials.

Lawmakers shouldn’t have adopted the measure without debate. This attempt to allow companies to supply drugs without fear of public criticism so far, according to a recent Indianapolis Star story, has not been successful in obtaining the drugs.

Before the state can carry out an execution it now has to either appeal the decision to the Indiana Supreme Court or go through a public hearing process to win approval for the drug cocktail it plans to use. And under the appeals court ruling, public officials would also have to seek input from the governor’s office and the state attorney general before changing the drugs used for lethal injection.

The attorney general’s office, which argues appeals for the state, said in a statement that it was “disappointed” with the decision.

But we see nothing disappointing in a ruling that makes the state accountable to Hoosiers for the executions it carries out in their name.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.