Thursday, May 24, 2012

Media Outlets Sue to View Executions

Seal of the United States Court of Appeals for...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.
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1 comment:

  1. Capital punishment is so barbaric and disturbing that I cannot understand those who choose to participate, either through employment or as witnesses. I do, however, understand the necessary witness/observer role the press plays. As your post indicates, they're surrogates for the public in whose name the death penalty is imposed.

    I recall long-ago talk show host Phil Donahue's suggestion that executions be broadcast. He devoted a show to the issue, and I believe his reasoning was that public exposure would repulse, horrify and serve as a catalyst for abolition.

    While media is expected to be impartial, do you believe this suit for complete access is just that, a pursuit of denied rights, or do you believe another agenda, similar to Phil Donahue's, might also be in play?

    I'm asking for your speculation, of course, but your thoughts would be appreciated.