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Arkansas Supreme Court Strikes Down Execution Law

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on June 25, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Arkansas supreme court has ruled that the state's execution law, enacted in 2009, is unconstitutional.

The law states the death sentence in Arkansas must be done by lethal injection of one or more chemicals which will be chosen by the director of the Department of Correction. In a seven-to-two vote, the state's high court held that the law fails the necessary separation of powers.

The court's decision now puts Arkansas in a somewhat difficult position.

The death penalty is still an available punishment in Arkansas, but there is there doesn't appear to be a way for the Department of Corrections to carry it out.

The 2009 law did include a provision that if it were found unconstitutional, death sentences would be done by execution, as reported by Associated Press. Governor Mike Beebe probably won't be enforcing that since he told reporters that the state has no legal way to carry out death sentences until a new law is passed.

The law was challenged by a death row inmate in 2010 who argued that it violated the separation of powers. The legislature is supposed to determine how sentencing works in Arkansas. That includes determining the method for of execution for a death sentence.

The 2009 law mandated lethal injection but it left the specifics of the procedure to the Department of Correction, an executive branch office.

Shifting a legislative duty to an executive office is an almost textbook case of violating the separation of powers so it's not surprising that the court struck down the execution law.

Mixing branch responsibilities like that makes it more difficult for citizens to hold government officials responsible. It also runs the risk of putting too much power in the hands of one branch which is not allowed under the federal constitution as well as many state constitutions.

The decision didn't consider the constitutionality of the death penalty in general or lethal injection specifically.

The court's decision on the execution law probably won't stop Arkansas for continuing to have a death penalty. Governor Beebe hopes to have a remedy within the next few months, reports Associated Press.

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