Supreme Court Deals Blow to First Amendment Argument Regarding Lethal Injection

The Supreme Court vacated a federal appellate court ruling to stay the execution of an Arizona man Tuesday, despite concerns that remain regarding the secrecy that surrounds the lethal injection process. Joseph Wood was sentenced to death in 1991 for shooting his ex-girlfriend and her father, both of whom died. With the Supreme Court’s ruling in place, Arizona authorities are now set to proceed with his execution at any time.

Tuesday’s ruling was a devastating blow to First Amendment arguments centering on the lack of information available, or provided, to inmates and the public regarding lethal injection drugs used in executions in the U.S. It seems to this criminal defense firm that asking the state to provide basic details of its execution methods would be, to use a flippant term, a no-brainer, particularly in light of recent reports of botched executions. A three-judge panel for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals apparently agreed, ordering the stay against Wood’s execution until the state released the necessary information, according to the Washington Post. The full court later went on to uphold the decision on Monday, allowing the stay to remain in effect. However, in a pair of brief orders released late Tuesday, the Supreme Court of the United States vacated the stay and denied a request for a stay of execution, effectively sealing Wood’s fate.

Though some may argue SCOTUS’ ruling puts an end to the debate, criminal defense attorneys and those opposed to the death penalty would disagree. Serious ethical, moral and legal questions remain regarding the withholding of information on death penalty procedures. It’s important to note that though Wood’s case may not have proved successful in the courts, it certain highlighted the issue of whether the death penalty should be upheld for the American public.

Certainly, there have been recent successes in this area, including one federal judge’s ruling last week that California’s death penalty is unconstitutional. In his ruling, Judge Cormac J. Carney said the system in that state is so broken, leaving executions to take upwards of 20 years, that the death penalty unfairly leaves inmates with uncertain fates and is tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment.

Political forces on both sides of the issue are already gearing up in light of the recent rulings, and the issue is not likely to be settled any time soon. In the meantime, we will continue to focus on fighting for the rights of the accused, and those already convicted. Though Washington, DC is among those jurisdictions that have abolished the death penalty, we remain concerned about the fates of thousands of inmates in other states across the country who are awaiting execution. We can only hope that someday justice in this matter will prevail in every state, and throughout all levels of the American criminal justice system.

Jason Kalafat Defense Attorney is a full service criminal defense firm located in the heart of Washington, DC. We provide criminal defense services for those charged in DC Superior and Federal courts. If you or your loved one have been charged, contact the law office today to schedule a free, initial consultation.