The Georgia Supreme Court ruling in Owens et al v. Hill is available in Adobe .pdf format. The ruling was issued yesterday.
"Court upholds lethal-injection secrecy law," is by Bill Rankin in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The Georgia Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of a state law that keeps secret the identities of the makers and suppliers of Georgia’s lethal-injection drugs.
The court, in a 5-2 decision, rejected a challenge to the statute filed by lawyers for condemned killer Warren Hill. The ruling should clear the way for a number of executions, which have been on hold while the case was pending.
Benham, who authored the dissent, noted the recently botched execution in Oklahoma of inmate Clayton D. Lockett, who died of a heart attack after he writhed, gasped and struggled to lift his head after being declared unconscious on the lethal-injection gurney.
“I write because I fear this state is on a path that, at the very least, denies Hill and other death row inmates their rights to due process and, at the very worst, leads to the macabre results that occurred in Oklahoma,” wrote Benham, who was joined by Justice Carol Hunstein. “There must be certainty in the administration of the death penalty.”
The case involved an appeal by the state from an order issued last July by Fulton Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan, who found the law was likely unconstitutional. In her ruling, Tusan halted the execution of Hill so she could more closely examine the secrecy law. But the court reversed Tusan’s decision.
AP coverage is, "Georgia high court upholds law protecting anonymity of execution drug suppliers," by Kate Brumback. It's via the Greenfield Daily Reporter.
Presiding Justice P. Harris Hines wrote in the 33-page majority opinion keeping secret the identity of entities involved in an execution can shield them from harassment or retaliation from family members of inmates or from death penalty opponents. Hines added that, without that confidentiality, there is a significant risk that entities needed for an execution might be unwilling to participate.
"(W)e conclude that Georgia's execution process is likely made more timely and orderly by the execution-participant confidentiality statute and, furthermore, that significant personal interests are also protected by it," the majority opinion says.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Robert Benham recounted the details of the botched April 29 execution of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett, who writhed on the gurney, gritted his teeth, and moaned before dying of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after the start of his execution. The secrecy law puts the state on a path that denies death row inmates their rights to due process and could lead to a result similar to what happened in Oklahoma, Benham wrote.
"The fact that some drug providers may be subject to harassment and/or public ridicule and the fact that authorities may find it more difficult to obtain drugs for use in executions are insufficient reasons to forgo constitutional processes in favor of secrecy, especially when the state is carrying out the ultimate punishment," the dissenting opinion says.
"Georgia Supreme Court rules secret source for lethal injection drugs law constitutional," in the Albany Herald.
The Georgia Supreme Court has reversed a stay of execution for Warren Lee Hill, who murdered another inmate at the state prison in Leesburg in 1990. The court in a 5-2 vote rejected the arguments of Hill’s attorneys that Georgia’s refusal to disclose the source of its lethal drugs was unconstitutional.
Last July, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan postponed Hill’s execution to review at 2013 state law that makes the identities of those who supply or compound drugs used in Georgia executions “a confidential state secret.”
Jesse Wegman writes, "In Georgia, Secrecy Is More Important Than Life," at the New York Times Taking Note blog.
Putting aside for the moment whether an executioner’s (or drugmaker’s) interest in avoiding harassment should outweigh the constitutional rights of a condemned man, it is notable that courts never seem to identify any actual instances of harassment, only the “risk” of it.
The death penalty in America long ago lost any claim to being consistently or fairly applied, if it ever was. But as Justice Benham argued, there must at the very least be “certainty” in its administration.
“Georgia’s confidential inmate state secret statute,” he wrote, “does nothing to achieve a high level of certainty. Rather, the law has the effect of creating the very secret star chamber-like proceedings in which this State has promised its citizens it would not engage.”
Earlier coverage of Warren Hill's case begins at the link.
Although it was not an issue in this ruling, Warren Hill is acknowledged to have intellectual disability.
As I often point out, mental retardation is now generally referred to as a developmental or intellectual disability.
Because it has a specific meaning with respect to capital cases, I continue to use the older term on the website. More on Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court's 2002 ruling banning the execution of those with mental retardation, is via Oyez.
Related posts are in the mental retardation category index.