Split Judicial Panel Upholds Ohio Capital-Punishment Law

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati yesterday dismissed challenges to an Ohio law that promises to shield the identities of some of those involved in the execution process, including pharmacies that manufacture the drugs, reports the Toledo Blade. A 2-1 decision upheld a lower court’s dismissal of claims made by several death row inmates that the process unconstitutionally conceals information to which they are entitled. The majority agreed that the inmates lacked standing to sue because they could not show they’d been harmed by being denied information to which they claim they have a free-speech and public record right.

“It is not enough that the plaintiff’s executions be imminent, because a validly imposed death sentence that is properly carried out is not ‘an invasion of a legally protected interest,’” wrote Judge Eugene Siler. “While a deficient execution is a very serious matter, the existence of deficiencies in this case is only conjectural or hypothetical and is therefore not imminent for [legal standing] purposes.” Ohio last executed an inmate in January 2014, when Dennis McGuire was put to death using a two-drug process that it has since abandoned. McGuire died, but witnesses described him as making choking noises and struggling against his restraints for 26 minutes after the drugs began to flow. Dissenting Judge Jane Stranch described McGuire’s death as “this horrifying tale of an execution gone wrong.” She argued that the majority’s ruling prohibits condemned inmates from accessing information that may be necessary to prevent the carrying out of an execution that unconstitutionally imposes cruel and unusual punishment. Ohio plans to execute Ronald Phillips, a plaintiff in the case, on Jan. 12.

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