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ACLU -- Death Penalty News

ACLU of Florida Responds to U.S. Supreme Court Striking Down Florida Law Setting Strict I.Q. Limit for Executions

Tue, 05/27/2014 - 12:00am

CONTACT: 212-549-2666,

MIAMI – Today, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision striking down a Florida law that set strict criteria based on IQ test scores to determine a defendant’s eligibility for the death penalty.

Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida, responded to the decision with the following statement:

"No one should be surprised that the U.S. Supreme Court will not permit the Florida legislature to impose the death penalty contrary to what Justice Kennedy declared 'our nation's commitment to dignity and its duty to teach human decency as the mark of a civilized world.'

"The Supreme Court is telling Florida leaders — who passed the unconstitutional law allowing for the execution of Freddie Hall — that if you want to impose the death penalty, it must be done in a way that respects standards of decency and basic human rights.

"This is not the first time the Legislature has ignored standards of decency set by the U.S. Supreme Court and it likely will not be the last. The strict IQ rule struck down by the Supreme Court today is just one example of the many ways in which our state’s death penalty system falls short of constitutional and human rights standards. We should expect the Supreme Court to take more control over Florida’s death penalty system in the future.

"Florida’s death penalty system is broken, and if state leaders wish to continue sentencing people to die, they must address that system’s failings. Florida is the only state in the country where the vote of a simple majority of jurors can recommend that a person receive a sentence of death.  This has contributed to our state’s record of having the most errors and exonerations from death row.

"Unless the Legislature fixes the system by which death can be imposed by the vote of a simple majority, it is likely that the Court will take that – and more – out of their hands."

Categories: Prisoners Rights

ACLU-TN: Tennessee’s Electric Chair Mandate Wrong, Backward

Fri, 05/23/2014 - 12:00am

CONTACT: 212-549-2666,

NASHVILLE –Governor Bill Haslam signed legislation Thursday evening making Tennessee the first state to mandate use of electrocution when lethal injections are unavailable. Tennessee legislators passed the legislation in April by an overwhelming majority.

Since 1973, nearly 150 people have been released from death row because they were innocent. Others were executed before their innocence was later proven. Carlos DeLuna was executed in 1989 in Texas though an independent investigation has now concluded he was innocent. Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 in Texas for an arson that killed his three children. Impartial investigators now say there was no arson.

Eighteen states in and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty, including Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

The following can be attributed to Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of Tennessee executive director:

Regardless of the method, state killing is wrong. Tennessee took a huge step backward by mandating use of the electric chair—an extremely brutal and cruel means of execution—at a time when eighteen states have recognized that the death penalty is unfair and unjust and repealed it altogether. The death penalty does not achieve real justice when over 100 people sentenced to death have been exonerated and decisions about who lives and who dies are largely dependent on how much money they have, the skill of their attorneys, the race of the victim, and where the crime took place.  Life without parole is a better way to keep communities safe without sacrificing our values.

Categories: Prisoners Rights

Missouri and Oklahoma Executions Will Violate International Law: ACLU Petitions Human Rights Tribunal

Mon, 05/19/2014 - 12:00am

Execution in Missouri Less Than Two Days Away

May 19, 2014

CONTACT: 212-549-2666,

NEW YORK – This morning, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a petition with the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights showing that the upcoming executions by lethal injection in Missouri and Oklahoma will most certainly violate international law against torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, should they go forward. The ACLU asks that the executions be stopped until the IACHR can conduct independent investigations of the two cases.

At 12:01 AM CT on Wednesday, May 21, the state of Missouri is scheduled to execute Russell Bucklew, the first death-row prisoner in the U.S. to be executed since the horrifically botched killing of Clayton Lockett by lethal injection in Oklahoma. Physicians predict that lethal injection for Mr. Bucklew will be prolonged, torturous, and gruesome due to his cavernous hemangioma, a rare, lifelong, and severe condition that causes, among other problems, weakening of his veins and tumors in his nose and throat that severely compromise his airway. The state plans to use compounded pentobarbital, the same drug that has repeatedly proved problematic, including in the botched January 9, 2014, execution of Michael Lee Wilson, in Oklahoma, whose last words were "I feel my whole body burning," and in other executions that appeared to have serious difficulties.

Charles Warner is scheduled to be executed in Oklahoma in November. The state has resisted initiating a third-party independent investigation of Mr. Lockett’s death. The petition asks the IACHR to request an independent investigation as a prerequisite to any preparations for Mr. Warner’s execution. 

Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, said, "Lethal injection in the United States has reached such a level of barbarism that the world needs to know the facts. The application of the death penalty itself in the U.S. violates international human rights standards, yet we continue to administer it with methods shown over and over to flout our own constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. It’s time for the depravity to end."

In addition to detailing the cruelty in recent executions by lethal injection, the ACLU’s petition outlines the many ways in which the governments of Oklahoma and Missouri have hidden crucial information from the prisoners to be executed and the public. Cassandra Stubbs, Director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project, noted, "Both the Oklahoma and Missouri governments have bent over backwards to keep secrets about lethal injection: they won’t let the public know where the drugs come from, who makes them, whether they have been tested for contaminants—the list goes on. We need these facts. Otherwise, we have no way of knowing that the same horrors won’t happen again and again, in our name."

The ACLU’s petition is available here:

For more information about the ACLU’s Human Rights Program:

For more information about the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project:

Categories: Prisoners Rights

President Obama Condemns Oklahoma Execution; Asks Attorney General to Investigate Death Penalty

Fri, 05/02/2014 - 12:00am

CONTACT: 212-549-2666,

WASHINGTON, DC – Laura Murphy, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office, responded to President Obama’s statements about the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma:

"President Obama’s remarks resonate with the millions who are appalled by the inhumane deaths administered recently by Oklahoma, Ohio, South Dakota, and other state governments. We are encouraged that he has placed the death penalty on the Attorney General’s agenda to address not only the cruelty of lethal injection but also the racial disparities in death sentences. The ACLU has long believed that we must end America’s unjust and discriminatory use of capital punishment. We look forward to working with the Attorney General on the President’s mandate."

Categories: Prisoners Rights

Execution Moratorium Sought by ACLU of Missouri & Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

Thu, 05/01/2014 - 12:00am

CONTACT: 212-549-2666,

ST. LOUIS – Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and the Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty sent a joint letter asking Gov. Jay Nixon to enact a moratorium on executions, pending a full investigation into execution protocols. A copy of the letter can be found on the ACLU of Missouri’s website.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri has brought several lawsuits against the Missouri Department of Corrections in an effort to determine the source of the drugs used, as well as the execution protocol in general. "We cannot trust the government to mete out the ultimate punishment when the process is shrouded in secrecy," says Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. "It is time to investigate our execution protocol, before Missouri repeats the cruel and torturous executions that happened in Oklahoma on Tuesday and in Ohio in January."

"A botched Missouri execution can happen as early as May 21," explains Rita Linhardt, chair of the Board for Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. "Russell Bucklew has a rare health condition that makes it likely he would experience a prolonged, excruciating death because the drugs may not flow properly in his blood vessels, which can easily rupture."

The ACLU of Missouri is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization dedicated to defending and expanding the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Missourians guaranteed by the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions, and is an affiliate of the national ACLU.

The Missourian for Alternatives to the Death Penalty is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the use of the death penalty in the state of Missouri. 

Categories: Prisoners Rights

ACLU Asks Governor to Suspend Executions Through 2015

Wed, 04/30/2014 - 12:00am

In Light of Botched Lethal Injections and Recommendations by Taskforce, State Should Pause Executions

April 30, 2014

CONTACT: 212-549-2666,

CLEVELAND, OH – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio called on Governor John Kasich to grant clemency to Arthur Tyler and suspend the next nine executions through 2015. The request comes the day after the Ohio Parole Board unanimously recommended clemency for Mr. Tyler and the state of Oklahoma administered a botched execution eerily reminiscent of past Ohiobotched executions.

"Now is the time for Ohio to pause executions while state leaders look to reform the system," said ACLU of Ohio Director of Communications & Public Policy Mike Brickner. "The botched execution in Oklahoma is another sad reminder of how broken our death penalty system is. After four botched executions in less than a decade, Ohio is at great risk of more problems with lethal injections. At this critical time where reform of the death penalty is possible, neither the public nor elected officials need the specter of botched executions distracting from this important work."

"Pausing executions is not about whether Governor Kasich agrees with the death penalty," added Brickner. "Even supporters of the death penalty should agree that it must be fair, humane, and comply with our Constitution. The recent problems with lethal injections and those pointed out by the Ohio Supreme Court Taskforce suggest we have much work to do to before we should resume executions."

Categories: Prisoners Rights

ACLU of Oklahoma's Statement in Response to Tuesday Night's Botched Execution in Oklahoma

Wed, 04/30/2014 - 12:00am

CONTACT: 212-549-2666,

Oklahoma City – In response to the botched execution of Clayton Lockett, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma has issued the below statements and is immediately calling for a full and open investigation into the execution. The ACLU of Oklahoma is also calling for an immediate moratorium on all executions pending the outcome of this investigation and for full and complete transparency regarding the execution process in Oklahoma.

The following is attributable to Ryan Kiesel, Executive Director, ACLU of Oklahoma:

"In Oklahoma’s haste to conduct a science experiment on two men behind a veil of secrecy, our state has disgraced itself before the nation and world. The greatest power any government has over an individual is to take that person’s life. More than any other power, the exercise of the power to kill must be accompanied by due process and transparency. This evening we saw what happens when we allow the government to act in secret at its most powerful moment and the consequences of trading due process for political posturing. This is not about whether these two men are guilty; that is not in dispute. Rather, it comes down to whether we trust the government enough to allow it to kill its citizens, even guilty ones, in a secret process."

The following is attributable to Brady Henderson, Legal Director, ACLU of Oklahoma:

"We hope that courts will reconsider whether transparency about the drugs used in executions is required as a matter of law. After tonight, there’s no speculation needed to appreciate that there are fundamental failures in our execution process. It is important to remember that the State of Oklahoma continues to deny relatively simple requests from condemned men to find out about the drugs that will be used to kill them. There are serious concerns about the lethal injection process in light of more and more botched executions conducted with questionable drugs from questionable sources, and an Oklahoma law now bars inmates (and everybody else) from finding out important information needed to ensure compliance with the Constitution. In other words, it puts a veil of secrecy over one of the most grave functions of state government–killing its own citizens. If we are to have executions at all, they must not be conducted like hastily thrown together human science experiments."

Categories: Prisoners Rights

Media and Watchdog Groups File Briefs Supporting ACLU’s Challenge to Death Penalty Secrecy

Mon, 03/31/2014 - 12:00am

CONTACT: 212-549-2666,

ST. LOUIS – Last November, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri tried to intervene on publisher Larry Flynt’s behalf to unseal court records related to Missouri’s execution of Joseph Franklin, who was responsible for paralyzing Flynt in 1978.

In December, the district court refused to allow Flynt the right to intervene, saying Flynt has only a generalized interest in the subject of the litigation. Today, two public watchdog organizations and 13 media companies that have also asked courts to unseal records have filed amici briefs supporting the ACLU’s appeal of the district court’s decision.

The organizations include Public Citizen; the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; Missouri Press Association; Advance Publications, Inc.; American Society of News Editors; Association of Alternative Newsmedia; Courthouse News Service; First Amendment Coalition; The McClatchy Company; MediaNews Group, Inc. d/b/a Digital First Media; National Press Photographers Association; the New York Times Company; Newspaper Association of America; POLITICO LLC; and the Washington Post. 

"Concerned citizens and the media are watchdogs of our government and often seek access to sealed court documents," explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. "If the district court’s decision is allowed to stand, it would be nearly impossible for any member of the media or the general public to challenge a decision to keep court records secret."

The ACLU of Missouri Foundation is a non-partisan, not-for-profit membership 501(c)(4) organization dedicated to defending and expanding the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Missourians guaranteed by the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions, and is an affiliate of the national ACLU.

Copies of the amici briefs and other case documents can be found on the ACLU of Missouri’s website.

Categories: Prisoners Rights