A blog produced by the Oregon Justice Resource Center discussing the death penalty (capital punishment) in Oregon and in the Ninth Circuit.
State officials and news organizations in Idaho have agreed on wording of a new policy that will ensure witnesses to executions will always be allowed to view the entire procedure.
The agreement, filed with Boise’s U.S. District Court on Monday, says the Idaho Department of Corrections will modify its procedures to allow witnesses to view the entire execution from the moment the condemned inmate enters the chamber until his final heartbeat.
The state was ordered to make the change by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after 17 news organizations including The Associated Press sued earlier this year, contending prison officials were violating the First Amendment and ignoring a 2002 appellate court ruling by preventing media witnesses from viewing lethal injection executions until after the catheters have been inserted into the veins of the condemned inmates.
The 9th Circuit Court agreed, finding that the public, through the news media, must be able to view executions start to finish so that people can accurately decide if capital punishment meets societies’ evolving standard of decency.
“Nearly a decade ago, we held in the clearest possible terms that ‘the public enjoys a First Amendment right to view executions from the moment the condemned is escorted into the execution chamber,” the appellate panel wrote in their June 8 ruling. “The State of Idaho has had ample opportunity for the past decade to adopt an execution procedure that reflects this settled law.”
Because of the ruling, the Idaho Department of Correction for the first time allowed journalists selected as witnesses to the June 12 execution of Richard Albert Leavitt to view the entire procedure. The witnesses reported that the lethal injection process appeared to be carried out in accordance with the departments’ policies.
Still, the news organizations and the state had to agree on wording for a permanent execution access rule for the lawsuit to come to a formal end. Attorneys on both sides agreed to the following:
“The Idaho Department of Corrections, and responsible parties associated therewith, are hereby ordered to modify their procedures to allow the witnesses to the execution of a condemned inmate to observe the entire execution from the moment the inmate enters the execution chamber through, to and including, the time the inmate is declared dead.”
The state also agreed to pay the news organizations’ attorney fees and costs, a bill totaling more than $29,000. The news organizations joining the AP in the lawsuit include The Idaho Statesman, Boise Weekly, Lewiston Tribune, Moscow-Pullman Daily News, The Idaho Press Club, Idahoans for Openness in Government, The Times-News, Spokesman-Review and the Pioneer Newspaper group, including the Idaho Press-Tribune and Idaho State Journal.
The appellate court ruling prompted state officials in Arizona, which is under the 9th Circuit’s jurisdiction, to change state policy to allow increased witness access to executions. Officials in Washington and Montana, meanwhile, have said they have no immediate plans to change their respective states’ policies because neither state has an execution scheduled at this time.