Federal Appeals Court Blocks Alabama Execution


The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit granted Tommy Arthur’s motion to stay his execution, which the Alabama Supreme Court had scheduled for today. The stay was issued after the federal appeals court ordered a lower federal court to consider Mr. Arthur’s claims that Alabama’s method of executing inmates by lethal injection violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

The Eleventh Circuit on March 21, 2012, reversed the federal district court’s dismissal of Tommy Arthur’s 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 complaint alleging among other claims that recent changes in Alabama’s lethal injection protocol, the failure of prison personnel to follow regular procedures in carrying out lethal injections, and Alabama’s policy of keeping information about its lethal injection procedure secret violate the Cruel and Unusual Punishment and Due Process Clauses.

The court sent the case back to the district court for factual development about whether Alabama’s recent change in the drugs used in lethal injections is substantial enough to make Mr. Arthur’s challenge timely. The district court had dismissed Mr. Arthur’s claims without any evidentiary development.

“There has been no finding about the manner in which Alabama administers its lethal injections, no evaluation of whether Alabama’s representations are accurate, and no opportunity whatsoever to contradict the State’s assertions with Arthur’s own evidence,” the Eleventh Circuit wrote. “And the lack of factual development in this record is only exacerbated by Alabama’s policy of maintaining secrecy surrounding every aspect of its three-drug execution method.”

Although the decision immediately remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings, the State of Alabama sought additional time to ask the full appellate court for rehearing, which necessitated the order staying Mr. Arthur’s execution. The Eleventh Circuit panel yesterday denied the State’s request that it reconsider its decision granting the stay, and the Attorney General’s office confirmed today’s execution would not go forward.