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Will Ninth Circuit Grant Media Access to Idaho Executions?

By Robyn Hagan Cain on June 07, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Thursday in Associated Press et. al. v. Otter, an appeal seeking full viewing access to Idaho executions.

The lawsuit claims that Idaho's regulations preventing witnesses -- including reporters -- from watching executions until after catheters have been inserted into the veins of death row inmates is overly restrictive, reports The Associated Press.

The AP and 16 other news organizations filed a federal lawsuit in May, asking U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge to delay Richard Leavitt's execution from moving forward without the changes. Judge Lodge acknowledged that the news organizations made a strong case that Idaho regulations violated freedom of the press provisions, but ruled that the timing of the claim fell too close to Leavitt's execution date and could cause a delay, according to the AP.

Leavitt, who was convicted of killing Danette Elg in Blackfoot, Idaho, in 1984, is scheduled to die by lethal injection June 12, reports KTVB.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has addressed this issue previously. In 2002, the court ruled in California First Amendment Coalition v. Woodford that a correctional institution's prohibition of the media and public's viewing of lethal injection executions amounted to an unreasonable restriction of the First Amendment right of the public to view executions. The court reasoned that the right to view an execution starts at the moment the condemned enters the death chamber.

Idaho officials have taken the position that the 2002 decision does not apply to the Idaho regulation because it was based on facts unique to California. A decision in the appeal is expected soon.

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