Arkansas Supreme Court strikes down death penalty law

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, June 22, 2012 13:11 EDT
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A judge and a gavel. Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.
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The state of Arkansas will have to rethink how it puts prisoners to death thanks to the state’s Supreme Court ruling on Friday (PDF) that its current procedures are unconstitutional.

In a split decision, the top court’s justices ruled that the legislature had “abdicated its responsibility” by turning over control of executions and execution protocol to the Department of Corrections, which is vested in the state’s executive branch.

The decision came after 10 death row inmates challenged their sentences with a novel legal argument that struck at the basis of the law by claiming the Department of Corrections did not have the right to determine what chemicals should be used in executions via lethal injection. Hoping to avoid this very scenario, lawmakers passed an update to the state’s death penalty law in 2009, which the court has just struck down.

It is not yet clear what the state will do with regards to its death penalty, which still remains in place. Attorneys who spoke to The Associated Press on Friday said Arkansas may just opt to revert to a 1983 law that allowed executions to be carried out via electric chair.

Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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