In Brief: August 2018

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In St. Louis, six civil rights organizations filed an amicii brief with the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals last week on behalf of Charles Rhines arguing that the homophobia openly displayed by his South Dakota jury in 1993 was proof that he was sentenced to death because he is gay. Courthouse News reports that organizations including the ACLU, Lambda Legal, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders and the National Center for Lesbian Rights argue that evidence “suggests that at least some members of the jury accepted the notion that life in prison without parole would be fun for a gay person – so much so that they felt it was necessary to impose the death penalty instead. In other words . . . the jury may have sentenced Mr. Rhines to death based not on the facts of his case, but because he is gay.”

In Louisiana, NOLA.com reports that late last month, a federal judge agreed to a request by state officials to extend a 12-month order temporarily delaying all executions for “at least another year.” The state is being sued in federal court over its lethal injection protocol. NOLA.com says there are three main challenges the state is facing in trying to resume executions for the first time since 2010. They include an inability to find a source for the drugs; the fact that the state requires officials to disclose the drug manufacturers’ identities; and lethal injection is its only legal method of execution.

In Florida, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel looks at how several recent death penalty cases ended in sentences of life without parole because of the death penalty law the state passed in 2017.  That law requires juries to unanimously find at least one aggravating factor justifying a death sentence and then unanimously vote to recommend the death penalty. Prior to 2016, a simple majority was all that was required for a death sentence, but the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Hurst v. Florida, and subsequent state Supreme Court rulings found that law unconstitutional. Still, the paper reports that “Defense lawyers and prosecutors agree that it’s too soon to determine whether the new law will result in a long-term reduction in the number of capital sentences.”

In Arkansas, Arkansas Online reports that the state doesn’t plan to execute anyone this year because of a dwindling supply of lethal injection drugs and an inability to find any manufacturers because of a state Supreme Court ruling that corrections officials can no longer keep the identity of its manufacturers secret. According to Arkansas Online, the state has only two of the three drugs it needs. 

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