A judge for the US District Court for the District of Arizona [official website] signed an order [text] on Thursday accepting major revisions to Arizona’s death penalty procedures. The order provides such changes like eliminating paralytic drugs for lethal injections, providing witnesses with more access to watch prisoners inside the death chamber, limitations on the department director’s authority to change drugs, and time allotted to prisoners to challenge any drug changes. The changes are the result of a settlement reached in a 2014 lawsuit [Reuters report] brought by seven death row inmates who argued Arizona’s policies were experimental and caused unnecessary suffering. The deal is the first time any state has agreed to major changes in death penalty procedures due to prisoners’ complaints.
The death penalty has been a pressing issue across the country. In December a report by the Death Penalty Information Center [advocacy website] found that the use of capital punishment in the US is at a 20-year low [JURIST report]. In May the Delaware House of Representatives [official website] passed a bill[JURIST report] that would reinstate the death penalty. In March Florida governor signed a new bill [JURIST report] declaring that the death penalty may only be imposed by a judge upon unanimous recommendation from the jury. In January Ohio’s lethal injection protocol was deemed [JURIST report] unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. That same month, the US Supreme Court refused [JURIST report] to consider a challenge to Alabama’s death penalty system. In June the US Supreme Court ruled[JURIST report] that psychiatric assistance must be provided for indigent defendants sentenced to the death penalty.