ABA President Linda A. Klein expressed the ABA’s concern that the scheduling of eight executions during a 10-day period this month in Arkansas undermines due process and impedes adequate legal representation in the individual cases.
“While the ABA takes no position on the death penalty itself, it has long been association policy that executions should only be carried out when a state has ensured sufficient procedural safeguards to decrease the risks of injustice,” Klein wrote April 11 to Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. “This can happen only when decision makers – including judges, parole boards and governors – are all provided with adequate time to assess claims for relief and when prisoners are represented by qualified, resourced and conflict-free counsel able to present these claims.”
Since Klein’s letter, several court rulings at the federal and state levels temporarily blocked the executions from taking place, and the state is appealing the decisions.
After more than a decade without executions, the state set the multiple executions this month because its supply of midazolam, a sedative used during executions, will expire at the end of April. The drug has been a topic of debate following its use in several botched executions.
Klein said the execution schedule set by the state appears to “prioritize expediency above due process” and asked the governor to modify the schedule to allow adequate time between executions.
In her letter, Klein cited the ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Counsel in Death Penalty Cases, which provide that when an execution date is set, counsel must “immediately take all appropriate steps to secure a stay of execution and pursue those efforts through all available fora.” She explained that the execution dates in Arkansas “have been set without regard to these lawyers’ ethical duties; more important, the arbitrary acceleration of execution dates poses unfair and irreversible consequences for defendants who may still be in the process of asserting their legal rights.”
Klein also noted ABA concerns about allegations by counsel that at least two of the prisoners scheduled for execution suffer from severe mental illness.
“Allowing time for each case to receive sufficient and individualized review prior to imposing death – the most serious action that our governments can take – will not preclude the administration of justice in Arkansas from going forward. It is critical, however, to ensuring our collective confidence in the fairness and accuracy of our justice system,” she concluded.