Inmates' challenge to Arkansas lethal injection law moved to federal court at AG's request

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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — A challenge by several death row inmates to a new Arkansas law aimed at resuming executions after a decade-long lull is being moved to federal court at the request of the state's attorney general.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge on Friday moved to have the lawsuit pulled from Pulaski County court, saying the inmates' complaints about the new law violating the U.S. Constitution would be better suited before a federal judge.

The new law, which Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed last week, allows the Department of Correction to use a combination of three drugs for executions. The state currently allows a one-drug barbiturate injection, a method upheld by the state's high court last month. The measure also bars the state from releasing the name of the drug supplier.

The seven inmates immediately filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new law. They argue that the law violates a previous contract with the state that guarantees the disclosure of the drugs' source to the inmates. The case had been assigned to Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, whose decision striking down the state's previous lethal injection law was reversed by the Arkansas Supreme Court last month.

The state court is unable to proceed unless the case is sent back by the federal judge, according to Rutledge's office.

Jeff Rosenzweig, an attorney for the inmates, said he has 30 days to challenge the move and hadn't decided whether to do so as of Monday. Rosenzweig said the move runs counter to past cases involving criminal convictions or state procedures.

"It is quite ironic that the state would want to pull this out of the state court system," he said.

Arkansas has 33 inmates on death row, but hasn't executed anyone since 2005 because of legal challenges and a shortage of drugs used in lethal injections. The state Supreme Court last month ruled the state's 2013 lethal injection law was constitutional, rejecting a lower judge's ruling that the measure gave prison officials too much power to set execution protocols.


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