Monday, November 12, 2012

Federal Judge in Pa. Pulls Back Curtain: Press Can View Executions

The Philadelphia Inquirer-Daily News Building ...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
United States District Judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Judge Yvette Kane ruled last week in Philadelphia Inquirer et al. v. Wetzel (Case No. 1:2012-cv-01917) that the press is entitled to full access to the entire execution process of death by lethal injection of inmates.

As reported by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Web site (www.rcfp.org), the (Harrisburg, Pa.) Patriot-News and the Philadelphia Inquirer sued on First Amendment grounds for access to the entire public execution proceedings. The Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections previously would draw a curtain shielding the witness observation room from the injection chamber during various stages of the proceedings, including when the condemned enters the injection room and is prepared for the fatal injection, as well as the coroner's post-injection examination of the inmate.

Judge Kane rejected the state's argument that allowing uninterrupted viewing of the entire procedure jeopardizes the safety of those who administer the injections were their identities to become known. She held that dating back to the days when the state carried out capital punishment by public hangings, all phases of the execution process were open for viewing by the public and the press.

Applying the "history & logic" test previously articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding whether access to executions should be presumed, Judge Kane concluded that unencumbered viewing of the entire execution advances the proper functioning of the execution process.
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