February 28, 2020

ABA seeks transparency for protocols used in Idaho lethal injections

CHICAGO, Feb. 28. 2020 — The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief today with the
Idaho Supreme Court, supporting a researcher’s lawsuit to get information regarding the protocols used in the state’s death penalty cases.

The ABA brief asks the state’s highest court to consider ABA policy, approved by the House of Delegates in 2015, that urges government entities to “require disclosure to the public, to condemned prisoners facing execution and to courts all relevant information regarding execution procedures,” including details about any drugs to be used.

The case dates to a 2017 request from University of Idaho law professor Aliza Cover for information from state officials related to the lethal chemicals used in executions. Although there is no law in Idaho barring disclosure, the Department of Correction cited its own regulations in refusing to release the information. During the past decade, states have had difficulty obtaining tested drug formulas for lethal injections after the U.S.-based manufacturer of a critical component stopped making it.

The ABA brief said public disclosure of the information is called for under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, and an Idaho death-row inmate has a right to determine “if the drugs will cause death in a human manner that comports with Eighth Amendment standards.”

“The idea that secrecy is justified in order to continue current execution protocols because public outcry and economic pressures have made it difficult or impossible to obtain drugs is anathema to constitutional policies and jurisprudence.” the ABA brief said. It added: “Secrecy measures around execution protocols undermine public confidence in the justice system because shielding these procedures from the public suggests that they cannot withstand public scrutiny.”

The amicus brief in Aliza Cover v. Idaho Board of Correction can be found here. The ABA was represented on the amicus brief by the law firms of Phillips Black, Inc. of Oakland, Calif., and Ferguson Durham, PLLC of Boise, Idaho.

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement on line. Follow the latest ABA news at www.americanbar.org/news and on Twitter @ABANews