The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in 2002 that every aspect of an execution should be open to witnesses, from the moment the condemned enters the death chamber to the heartbeat, says the Associated Press. The ruling established what was expected of the nine states in the court’s jurisdiction. A decade later, four of the states have kept part of each execution away from public view. Idaho, Arizona, Washington and Montana, have conducted 14 lethal injections since the ruling, and half of each procedure has been behind closed doors. That means that witnesses, including news reporters who act as representatives of the public, do not see, for instance, the insertion of the IVs that deliver the fatal drug mixture.
The practice comes at a time when the method itself has drawn greater scrutiny, from whether the drugs are effective to whether the execution personnel are properly trained. The states that limit access say they do so to protect the anonymity of the execution team, which may include emergency medical technicians, military medics, or others trained to insert IVs. Open government and journalism groups argue that witnessing all aspects of an execution is the only way to determine if it is being properly carried out. The AP and 16 other organizations this week sued Idaho to force officials to open the entirety of their executions, arguing that the news media, and by extension the public, has a First Amendment right to view all steps of lethal injections.