Sebastian County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Shue said an Arkansas Supreme Court ruling creates a philosophical and practical problem within the state’s criminal justice system — a problem he believes should be addressed immediately by the Arkansas Legislature.
The Arkansas Supreme Court issued an opinion Friday morning (June 22) that strike’s down a provision in Arkansas execution law which allowed Arkansas Department of Corrections officials to determine which chemicals may be used for lethal injections.
The opinion resulted from inmate Jack Harold Jones who successfully sought to stay his March 16, 2010, execution. Jones asserted that the Method of Execution Act of 2009, approved by the Arkansas Legislature, violated the separation of powers doctrine in the Arkansas Constitution.
As of June 22, there are 40 inmates on death row.
The decision will delay any state executions until legislative action can occur, which would be January 2013 unless Gov. Mike Beebe called the General Assembly into executive session to deal with the matter.
However, Beebe said Friday he would not call a special session to deal with the issue.
In explaining why he prefers the Legislature meet quickly and resolve the issue, Shue referred to a quote from legendary U.S. District Court Judge Isaac Parker — the “Hanging Judge” based in Fort Smith between 1875 and 1896.
“His (Parker’s) quote was, ‘It's not the severity of punishment but rather the certainty of punishment that deters crime.’ Unfortunately with this decision, we have neither, and that’s disconcerting as a prosecutor,” said Shue, who is one of eight board members with the Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association.
Continuing, Shue said: “I would like to see the Legislature called into special session to resolve the issue as soon as possible, because you want the certainty with the law.”
He said it would be a “fair statement” to say that many county prosecutors around the state also would like to see a quick Legislative resolution.
Shue, who has a capital punishment trial pending for late September or early October, said the issue also adds uncertainty for all aspects of the system.
“It makes you wonder what jurors may be thinking about with that uncertainty in the law,” Shue said in reference to the future of capital punishment rules in Arkansas.
Shue did stress that the Court opinion did not strike down the entire execution program in Arkansas.
“This about the mechanics of it. Now, that’s important ... but it did not outlaw executions in Arkansas,” Shue said.