An Oklahoma judge ruled the state’s execution law unconstitutional Wednesday because its privacy provision is so strict that it that prevents inmates from finding out the source of drugs used in executions, even through the courts.
After condemned inmates gasped or complained they were “burning” during executions in January, inmates Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner asked Oklahoma prison officials who was making the drugs that would kill them and whether the material was pure.
However, under state law, no one is allowed to disclose the source of drugs used in a lethal injection — even if an inmate sues and seeks the information as part of the discovery process. Oklahoma County District Judge Patricia Parrish said that prevents the inmates from exercising rights under the Constitution.
“I think that the secrecy statute is a violation of due process because access to the courts has been denied,” Parrish ruled.
The supply of drugs used in lethal injections has dried up in recent years as European manufacturers object to their use in executions and U.S. companies fear protests or boycotts.
Some death-penalty states have sought to buy or trade drugs with other states, and some have turned to compounding pharmacies that face less scrutiny from federal regulators. Many, like Oklahoma, made the process secret, too, to protect their suppliers.
Lockett and Warner’s challenge focused on what they called a “veil of secrecy.” They said they feared that if the drugs used to kill them weren’t pure, they could be conscious during their executions but unable to communicate. Knowing the source of the drugs could help them ensure the drugs were suitable, they said.
Assistant Attorney General Seth Branham warned the judge that she would be “treading into some deep water” if she ruled for the inmates. He said the inmates hadn’t proven they were at risk and that there was nothing they could do to stop their execution from being carried out anyway.