One of the many flaws of our death penalty system is that there always seems to be something that has to be figured out in the courts - whether that's the validity of the initial trial, the qualifiedness of the public defender who was appointed to the case, the constitutionality of the execution method or the legitimacy of the lethal injection drug supplier. All the legal action is a big part of what makes the process so incredibly lengthy and some might suggest measures to curtail all the lawsuits so as to shorten the process and make executions come faster. But, a process that leads to the death of a citizen is not a process that has room for error. There are too many issues as it is - innocent people on death row, racial bias and botched executions - we certainly don't want to be even less careful! So, that's why all the lawsuits are so important and two have been filed in Nebraska recently.
About a month ago, the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services announced that it had acquired the drugs for a new experimental lethal injection cocktail. They gave very little information in their news release so the ACLU, the Omaha World-Herald and other media outlets filed public records requests asking for all emails, letters, memos etc. from the department having to do with lethal injection drugs. A few days later, a limited response was given but, many key records were withheld, including any documentation showing where these new drugs were purchased from. The state said they were not going to release that information in the interest of attorney-client privilege. The problem is that not releasing those records is against the law. So, the ACLU of Nebraska filed suit last Friday to compel the department to reveal the source of the drugs. (And, if you're wondering why that information is so important, you should know that Nebraska has quite a history of repeatedly attempting to purchase illegitimate lethal injection drugs from unauthorized suppliers.)
Then, this morning, another suit was filed - a big one. This lawsuit is against Governor Ricketts for violating the state constitution’s separation of powers by actively working against a state statute during the death penalty referendum campaign rather than defending the law of the land. This suit was filed on behalf of all 11 current death row inmates and seeks to nullify the reinstatement of capital punishment. Further, as a secondary argument, it asserts that, for the 10 men who were on death row at the time LB268 was passed, their sentences were changed to life sentences and even if the reinstatement of the death penalty as a possible sentence for future cases is found to have been legitimate, it shouldn't cause those 10 sentences to revert to death.
This is exciting news and we're very grateful for our friends at the ACLU of Nebraska for making these important legal challenges. But, that being said, do you ever get sick and tired of these seemingly constant lawsuits? Do you ever wish there was no death penalty system at all for attorneys to make money litigating? What if there weren't any death drugs to verify the supplier of? What if the Attorney General's office could focus their resources on more important things? And, what if there weren't any reason to put a killer's photo in the newspaper 4 times this month, a full 15 years after his crime?
Regardless of what the courts decide on these particular matters, the death penalty system is bad public policy for Nebraska and NADP remains optimistic that, one way or another, its days are numbered.
On Behalf of All of NADP