A Collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh

Ninth Circuit allows media full access to future executions

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Friday ruled unanimously [opinion text, PDF] to allow 17 media groups unfettered viewing access at future executions, overturning a Tuesday ruling [JURIST report] from Idaho. The court declared that the Associated Press [media website] and 16 other news organizations have the right to view all stages of an execution by issuing a preliminary injunction on the state of Idaho to allow media to observe the planned execution of Richard Leavitt [AP report] on June 12. The court declared current Idaho execution procedures in clear violation of the First Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder] and the Ninth Circuit's precedent in California First Amendment Coalition v. Woodford [opinion text]:

Nearly a decade ago, we held in the clearest possible terms that "the public enjoys a First Amendment right to view executions from the moment the condemned is escorted into the execution chamber, including those "initial procedures" that are inextricably intertwined with the process of putting the condemned inmate to death." The State of Idaho has had ample opportunity for the past decade to adopt an execution procedure that reflects this settled law. It can hardly complain that it has been unaware of the binding precedent, since the media coalition specifically cited California First Amendment Coalition in asking the State to alter its execution procedure prior to the November 2011 execution of Paul Rhoades. The State has nonetheless failed to bring its procedure into compliance with the law—either in the days prior to the Rhoades execution or in the succeeding months, when it met with the media coalition to discuss the matter. The State has persisted in its intransigence even after we suggested at oral argument that a voluntary amendment (like the one that Arizona recently adopted) might avert the need for an injunction. The State's complaints about the last-minute nature of this litigation ignore this history. We fault the State, not the media plaintiffs, for our need to consider this question several days before an execution: the State has missed opportunity after opportunity to bring its execution procedures into compliance with the clear law of this Circuit.
Before Friday's ruling, the press was limited to watching the execution only after all of the procedural portions of lethal injection had been completed and the prisoner was restrained.

Other states are under scrutiny regarding death penalty procedures, notably Ohio. In February, the US Supreme Court [official website] denied [JURIST report] Ohio's request to proceed on its execution of Charles Lorraine, a 45-year-old man who was convicted in 1986 of killing an elderly couple, because the state deviates too often from its own lethal injection standards. Executions have been stayed in Ohio since 2009. In November of last year, the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, Maureen O'Connor [official profile] opened the first meeting of the state's death panel review committee which was formed [JURIST reports] in September to provide "guidance on the current laws on the subject, the practices in other jurisdictions, the data, the costs, and many other aspects associated with the death penalty."

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.