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Legally Speaking: Little progress made in Arizona’s lethal injection court fight

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Arizona’s death penalty was front and center Wednesday at the federal courthouse yet little, if anything, was actually resolved.

After what some call the botched execution of Joseph Wood in 2014, several death row inmates filed a lawsuit against Arizona and the Department of Corrections seeking to change the drugs used and the procedure employed for executions.

Judge Neil Wake commenced the hearing by explaining the never-ending list of issues and contingencies that he saw as needing to be addressed and resolved. He then gave each side ample time to voice their opinions and concerns.

Throughout, Wake encouraged the parties to work together to settle and reach agreements. However, by the end of the day, it appeared that was not going to happen.

The most interesting part of the hearing was when Wake hinted that we could be seeing the slow death of capital punishment here in Arizona.

Earlier this month, Arizona admitted its stash of midazolam, one of the drugs used in executions, had expired on May 31 and it had no prospects of obtaining any more in the future. With that admission, Wake tried to get the state to agree that it would never use midazolam again, even if it could obtain a supply.

Arizona refused.

It was then Wake hinted that it’s possible that, if Arizona could not get more midazolam and couldn’t get any other drugs, it would be out of the capital punishment business (at least by lethal injection). That could end up making executions impossible.

This case has been going on for two years and, although many were hoping there would be some resolve at the end of Wednesday’s hearing, a resolution did not happen.

Legally speaking, here are the takeaways from Wednesday:

  • The parties do not yet agree on anything.
  • This case is going to take a long time to resolve.
  • Capital punishment in Arizona could be reaching a tipping point, simply because it may no longer be possible.
  • The injunction on executions is still in place with no indication of when executions will be allowed to resume.

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