Media Can Hear Sound at AZ Executions, Court Rules

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Journalists are entitled to hear and not just see the entire process of executing condemned Arizona inmates, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said Tuesday in a ruling that criticized the state’s “checkered past with executions,” the Associated Press reports. In the case stemming from what a lawyer called a botched execution, the court also ruled that the media and death-row inmates are not entitled to information about the origins of execution drugs or the qualifications of executioners. The case challenged procedures created after the 2014 execution of Joseph Wood, who was given 15 doses of a lethal two-drug combination and repeatedly gasped and snorted during a two-hour ordeal.

The case was filed by seven condemned inmates and the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona. They argued the information on drugs and executioners would help the public determine whether the death penalty is carried out humanely. The state allow journalists, lawyers and family members to witness executions, first on a video monitor while an intravenous line is inserted in the inmate, then through a window as drugs are administered. A microphone is turned off after the IV line is placed. The judges found that the process violates the First Amendment because it deprives the media of access to governmental proceedings. They were not convinced that the First Amendment requires the Arizona Department of Corrections to divulge other information about executions. The inmates argued the state should be required to reveal information about the source and quality of execution drugs as well as the training of execution team members responsible for inserting IV lines. “Given Arizona’s checkered past with executions, we are troubled by the lack of detailed information regarding execution drugs and personnel,” said Judge Paul Watford, but there is no First Amendment right to access that information.

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