Politics

Louisiana AG And Governor Locked In Battle Over Temporary Death Penalty Ban

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Evie Fordham Politics and Health Care Reporter
  • Louisiana’s attorney general pulled his lawyers from defending the state’s Department of Corrections in a death row lawsuit because he wants Louisiana’s governor to clarify his position on the death penalty
  • Louisiana is one of several states with inmates who have lived past their scheduled execution dates because of pending litigation
  • Louisiana’s AG advocated for solutions like compounding pharmacies, or even alternative methods like firing squads, in a July letter

Louisiana’s attorney general is locked in a battle with the state’s governor to lift a temporary ban on executions, illustrating the difficulties that multiple states face in carrying out death sentences for a growing number of death row inmates.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican, sent Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards two letters in July about Landry’s decision to pull all Louisiana Department of Justice lawyers from defending the state’s Department of Corrections in a suit from death row inmates.

“I can’t particularly recall any time that we’ve had to take such drastic measures,” Landry told The Daily Caller News Foundation in a phone call Wednesday.

Because of the death row inmates’ suit, Hoffman v. Jindal, Louisiana’s Department of Corrections banned all executions within the state for a year starting on July 16.

Louisiana is one of 31 states that allows the death penalty, but it has joined a growing number of states in which pending litigation is effectively squelching the ability to carry out death sentences. For example, a lawsuit from New Jersey drug company Alvogen is keeping Nevada from executing twice-convicted murderer Scott Raymond Dozier. The death row inmate has said he wants to die.

The number of U.S. executions per year has been falling since 52 people were executed in 2009, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Twenty people were put to death in 2016, and 23 people were put to death in 2017.

Landry, who is considering running for governor against Edwards in 2019, asked Edwards to lift Louisiana’s execution moratorium. It was instituted in 2016 because of Hoffman v. Jindal, a suit brought by death row inmate Jessie Hoffman in 2012.

Hoffman was convicted for the 1996 kidnapping, robbing, raping and murdering of Molly Elliot, reported the Advocate. His lawyers argue that Louisiana’s method of executing Hoffman via lethal injection without a well-defined protocol constituted “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.

But lethal injection processes have been difficult to pin down in Louisiana and other states because of “difficulty in obtaining the necessary drugs.” Many drug companies work to prevent corrections departments from buying their products to be used for lethal injections, leaving states scrambling to buy drugs when their supplies expire.

Landry points to compounding pharmacies, which make drugs in small quantities, as a possible solution for Louisiana, which could follow the examples of states including Missouri and South Dakota.

“The one answer I know right now is that we have the ability to compound those drugs,” Landry told TheDCNF. “Some states have been able to overcome those issues. I think that concentrating whether or not drugs are expiring or not is really deflecting the issue to something that’s irrelevant. There is opportunity under which you can compound. … You can look at other forms of executions. This is a solvable problem.”

He called on Edwards to get behind policy changes that would give the state more flexibility by allowing compounding pharmacies and similar solutions or change state law to “expand the methods of execution,” in a July 24 letter.

“Louisiana has not executed anyone since 2010,” Landry told TheDCNF. “That’s been almost eight years now, so going on almost a decade. The question as to how long a moratorium would last is based upon an answer that the governor refuses to give. … We’ve consistently outlined ways to move forward with sentences.”

Landry’s first letter, dated July 18, received a next-day response from Edwards’ spokesperson Richard Carbo.

“We are pleased that [Landry] has conceded that current law, not the governor, is standing in the way of the state resuming executions,” Carbo wrote on July 19. “In the 211 days the legislature has been in regular session since 2016, the attorney general has not offered a single bill.”

Landry’s July 24 response included “draft legislation that would expand the methods of executions,” he wrote. The state attorney general had not received a response from the governor’s office as of Wednesday, Landry said.

Ultimately, the state’s inability to carry out death sentences is “softening” the deterrent factor of such punishments, Landry told TheDCNF. (RELATED: 
Nevada Asks State Supreme Court To Let It Execute Death Row Inmate Despite Drugmaker’s Objections)

“We’ve got 70 inmates on death row,” Landry told TheDCNF. “The reason criminal laws are in place is not to punish someone; they’re made for deterrence.”

Landry’s July 18 letter highlights states that have engineered creative solutions to carry out judge’s execution sentences.

“Alabama, which carried out two executions this year, recently expanded its options to include electrocution, nitrogen hypoxia, and lethal injection,” the letter states. “Missouri likewise authorizes the use of lethal gas, and several states permit death by hanging or firing squad.”

TheDCNF reached out to Edwards’ office and the advocacy group National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty via email but did not receive responses by the time of publication.

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