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Execution Hold Stems From Standards Conflict

terre haute prison

Before the stay, executions were scheduled for next month at the federal prison in Terre Haute. (Steve Burns, WTIU/WFIU News)

A federal judge has temporarily put four executions on hold saying they short-circuit the judicial process.

The first of the four inmates was scheduled for execution at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute on Dec. 9. That would have been the first federal execution in nearly 20 years.

Jody Madeira teaches law at Indiana University, she says the ruling stems from a conflict between the standard for executions for states and for the federal government.

She says the Department of Justice wants to use a uniform method for executions, but that clashes with the Federal Death Penalty Act.

“What that act says is that the method of execution should be chosen by the state of conviction,” Madeira says.

She says when Attorney General William Barr announced in July the federal government would resume pursuing executions, the DOJ chose to use the federal method of execution, which uses the drug pentobarbital, instead of the method used in the state where the crime was committed. Lawyers for the inmates claimed that made the executions unconstitutional.

“So they’ve asked for their execution to be stayed for an important reason, by the time this gets decided in the court, their briefs are due, depositions are held, that all happens in 2020 and their lives are supposed to end in 2019," Madeira says.

She says the court will have to decide whether the federal government is correct in using a uniform method or if executions should follow the rules laid out in the Federal Death penalty act, which requires the execution be done in the method prescribed by the state where the crime was committed.

While the federal government hasn’t executed an inmate since 2003, states across the country still execute dozens of prisoners a year.

Watch Jody Madeira on Indiana Newsdesk with Joe Hren for more:

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