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Arkansas Supreme Court Upholds Changes to Death Penalty Procedures

Frank Williams, Jr., an Arkansas Death Row prisoner, filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in state circuit court, alleging that the Arkansas Department of Corrections (DOC) administrative directive (AD) 08-28 setting forth execution procedures was adopted in violation of the Arkansas Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and violated Ark. Code. Ann. § 5-4-617(a)(1), which set forth the procedure to be used for executions. § 5-4-617(a)(1) specifically stated that executions were to be by continuous injection of an ultra-short-acting barbiturate and a chemical paralytic agent until death is pronounced. AD 08-28 provided for non-continuous injection of three agents.

Rejecting the DOC's argument that AD 08-28 was not a "rule" subject to the APA, and its procedures did not violate § 5-4-617, the circuit court granted Williams partial summary judgment and an injunction against the DOC using the procedures set forth in AD 08-28 to execute Williams. The DOC appealed.

While the appeal was pending, the Arkansas legislature enacted Act 1296, entitled "An Act to Clarify the Existing Procedures for Capital Punishment by Lethal Injection; and for Other Purposes." Act 1296 amended § 5-4-617 to exempt APA review of death penalty procedures promulgated by the DOC, and allow the use of "one or more chemicals" for execution
injections, omitting any requirement that they be continuous. The DOC then filed a motion to dismiss Williams’ lawsuit on the grounds of mootness.

The Supreme Court held that Act 1296 did not violate the prohibitions against ex post facto laws because it was not a sentencing statute and did not change the legal consequences of Williams’ conviction. Thus, Act 1296 could be applied to Williams’ execution, making Williams’ lawsuit moot. Therefore, the Supreme Court ordered the partial summary judgment reversed and returned the case to the circuit court with instructions for that court to lift the injunction and dismiss the lawsuit.

See: Arkansas Department of Corrections v. Williams, 2009 Ark. 523

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Related legal case

Arkansas Department of Corrections v. Williams