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The Oklahoma Legal Group Blog

Oklahoma Death Penalty Provision Declared Unconstitutional

Adam Banner - Monday, March 31, 2014

Last week, Oklahoma District Court Judge Patricia Parrish declared portions of Oklahoma's death penalty statutes as unconstitutional, due to the fact that the provisions denied prisoners due process.

Judge Parrish ordered that the "secrecy statute," which protects the nature of the chemicals used in Oklahoma's lethal injection cocktail and the source of such chemicals, should be stricken down, and it is very likely that the state of Oklahoma will appeal the decision to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. However, until that decision is either affirmed or overruled, it would seem that Oklahoma could still go through with executing individuals on death row so long as the state of Oklahoma divulges the drugs it shall use in its lethal injection cocktail and the source of the drugs.

Consequently, so as not to be outdone, Oklahoma has decided to reveal the combination of drugs that it will use.

The main issue here is that the lethal-injection cocktail that Oklahoma intends to employ is largely untested. As such, I do not see the merit, nor morale, in using human beings as guinea pigs. There is no reason to use an untested combination of chemicals from unknown sources for the single purpose of making sure that certain executions are no longer delayed. There is no reason that the state of Oklahoma should allow its blood-lust and need for retribution to overwhelm its common sense and better judgement.

One of the issues that many individuals have brought to my attention is the horrible nature of the crimes that the two inmates in question, Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, allegedly committed. This question has been especially prevalent in regards to Warner, who was convicted of raping and murdering his girlfriend's eleven-month-old daughter.

Many folks argue that the despicable nature of these allegations should, for whatever reason, remove any constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. I agree that the allegations and the events are unforgivable, but one also has to take into account the fact that Warner was convicted at jury trial. One has to realize that there are errors made in jury trials, and there are innocent people who are convicted for crimes they did not commit.

Another issue that multiple news-media reporters have asked me is whether or not I believe the fight against the secrecy statute and the resulting lawsuits were more a product of the inmates themselves or the attorneys representing them. Every time this questions has been posed, it seems that the underlying motive is that the attorney's for the two inmates have some ulterior motive in challenging the secrecy clause of the Oklahoma death penalty statutes. I don't understand that rationale, and I don't think it is the case.

Everyone has to realize that the line is definitely drawn in the dirt in regards to the death penalty. Prosecutors will always push for it, and defense attorneys will always oppose it. That is the nature of the jobs we are hired to do. If you are paid to protect a man (or woman's) life, you will challenge every aspect of the mechanism that is put into place to effectuate his or her death. The same is true for those who are hired to seek "retribution" for the state of Oklahoma; if the allegations are heinous enough, the prosecution has an implicit, but not express, obligation under our current law to seek out death in those situations it thinks are justified. The topic of the death penalty is a moral battleground with an ever-evolving war waging between to forces: those in support and those in opposition.

In that sense, there is no way that one can divide the distribution of desire to challenge the death penalty or the specific provisions of the laws that allow for it. There is little doubt that Lockett and Warner do not wish to die, so it is incomprehensible that their retrospective attorneys twisted their arms in order to find defendants with standing to challenge the current regime and its mode and method for conducting lethal injections in the state of Oklahoma. This is a fight that transcends one state, and it is a fight that would have occurred with subsequent inmates if it had not occurred with the current prisoners.

If you'd like more of my opinion on the subject, you can read my analysis for the Huffington Post as well.







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