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Ohio Wants to Cloak the Death Penalty in Secrecy

Mike Brickner,
ACLU of Ohio
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November 18, 2014

It would be an understatement to say Ohio has had many problems administering capital punishment.

Over the last decade, the state granted clemency to 10 people and botched four executions, including the tortuous death of Dennis McGuire, who was killed with experimental drugs. With mismanaged executions and growing controversy around lethal injections in Arizona, Oklahoma, and elsewhere, a federal judge in Ohio rightfully paused executions until the state could adopt new protocols.

Given all of these difficulties, you’d think leading state legislators would move forcefully to reform or abolish the death penalty in the state. Not so. Their solution is extreme: Close the curtain and keep the public out.

With almost no public discussion, proposed legislation that shrouds the capital punishment process in secrecy is being pushed through the legislature. The bill does two very alarming things. It would shield manufacturers and medical professionals who assist in executions from being the subject of public records inquiries, and it provides immunity to those individuals from ethical or professional reprimands.

This level of secrecy will be detrimental to Ohio’s very democracy.

The government represents the people and should be accountable to us. We have laws that require government officials to provide public records and have open meetings in order to prevent corruption, abuse, and incompetence. Taking a person’s life is the ultimate punishment that the public can levy, which means we have to take even greater pains to ensure the government does it humanely and legally.

Instead, Ohio’s leaders want to introduce more secrecy and less accountability into an already cruel and flawed system.

Allowing anonymity for drug manufacturers is particularly problematic, especially if compounding pharmacies are involved. These types of pharmacies make small batches of drugs, with each one being unique. Ohio would like to use compounding pharmacies, which are totally unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration for safety and efficacy, to supply the lethal dose during its executions. If this bill goes through, pharmacies will be off the hook and left unaccountable if their concoctions result in botched executions.

Unfortunately, secrecy is the typical reaction of the government in any number of circumstances—when problems crop up, the government opts to hide the truth from the people.

Ohio has had its share of problems with lethal injections. Secrecy will only guarantee that those problems will continue, and possibly spread. Ohio is consistently a bellwether state for contentious legislation, such as abortion and voting laws, which can set trends nationwide.

Whether you are a supporter or opponent of the death penalty, we all must agree that the government should play by the rules and must be accountable to the people. We don’t need more botched or wrongful executions and a hastily passed secrecy bill is a recipe for disaster.

It’s either kill this bill or let Ohio kill in secret, with other states to follow.

Please take a moment to ask the committee chairman to hold this legislation and not move it forward this year.

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