Seal of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Despite a decade-old precedential ruling by the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Idaho and four other Western states have denied uninterrupted access to witnesses to the execution of inmates.
That is the claim of the Associated Press and 16 other news media outlets that have sued Idaho for access, following last November when authorities prevented journalists from observing the first part of the execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades by lethal injection, according to the ABA Journal Law News Now blog. Washington, Montana, Arizona and Nevada are also being taken to task for denying witnesses the opportunity to observe the entire execution of 15 inmates over the past decade.
In California First Amendment Coalition v. Woodford, 299 F.3d 868 (9th Cir. 2002), an appellate court panel voted 3-0 to affirm a trial judge's permanent injunction barring defendants from prohibiting uninterrupted viewing of executions from the moment the condemned enters the execution chamber until he or she is declared dead from lethal injection. "Independent public scrutiny--made possible by the public and media witnesses to an execution--plays a significant role in the proper functioning of capital punishment," the Ninth Circuit wrote.
Authorities have argued that protecting the identity of executioners for safety reasons is paramount. The Woodford court, however, said blocking access is an exaggerated response to those concerns, which could be satisfied, for example, by having the executioners wear masks.