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Missouri: New State Law Conceals Identity of Executioners

by John E. Dannenberg

Missouri enacted a new law declaring the identity of those personnel participating in the execution process to be a state secret. The statute provides a legal cause of action for damages and punitive damages against those "leaking" such information, and bars any licensing board or department from taking any form of sanction against such a participant for his having so aided the state.

The enactment, Section 546.720 RSMo, signed into law by Missouri Governor Matt Blunt in July 2007, has an even darker implication. According to the Jean Maneke, attorney for the Missouri Press Association, it amounts to a state law denying the media the right to publish truthful information, thus striking at the heart of the First Amendment. (Note: There exist precedents protecting information damaging to the national security, and there are community-standard protections redacting the identity of juvenile litigants.] However, section 2 of the new statute proscribes such reporting "[n]otwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary."
This may prove to be the legal soft underbelly by which the Missouri Press Association attacks the statute, citing the First Amendment as such a "provision of law." And because section 3 of the statute used the same "notwithstanding ..." disclaimer preface, another attack might surface from the medical community complaining that the new law conflicts with their right to maintain professional ethical standards.

The problem, certainly not unique to Missouri, is that the "humane" process of administering lethal injection requires the services of licensed medical professionals such as anesthesiologists, who are forbidden by their Hippocratic Oath to knowingly harm anyone. Indeed, medical Boards sit to enforce the oath, at the peril of an offender being sanctioned (including loss of their license). However, that has yet to happen despite the fact that in numerous states, including Missouri, licensed physicians have carried out executions.

The new law declares that only the cold record of the amount, type and timing of chemicals administered may be disclosed. Even the execution chamber shall be "enclosed from public view." If this statute holds, reports of "botched" executions will disappear from public view, literally burying the truth with the victims. Missouri has not had an execution since October 2005.

Source: International Herald Tribune.

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