State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

State settles suit challenging executions viewing policy

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Nov 4, 2013 5:22 PM
executionSCIrockview.jpg

Photo by ACLU legal brief, from www.portal.state.pa.us


Pennsylvania has settled a lawsuit that sought to force the commonwealth to allow witnesses to view the entire execution of condemned death row prisoners. The agreement follows a federal judge's order last fall that the state shall not prevent witnesses, including reporters, see the entire lethal injection process.

"They would draw the curtain to not allow witnesses to view what was going on for pretty much most of the execution process," said Vic Walczak, legal director for the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU-PA filed the case with the firm Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, arguing that such a policy was inconsistent with the First Amendment.

The suit was filed last September on behalf of The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Harrisburg Patriot-News, when the state appeared close to the first non-voluntary execution of an inmate in some 15 years. The inmate received a stay of execution.

Under the state's previous policy, witnesses' view would be obstructed while drugs were administered to the inmate, and when state employees were checking the inmate's consciousness. The policy was changed following a federal judge's injunction last November. The judge told the state not to prevent witnesses from viewing the lethal injection procedure in its entirety.

The state's argument for drawing a curtain was that it protected the identity of state employees administering lethal injection.

"The argument we made, though, was that all those folks are in surgical gear. They are in masks and, frankly, their identity is already protected," Walczak said.


Published in State House Sound Bites

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