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Idaho Supreme Court Orders Release of Death Penalty Related Documents

The court’s November 20, 2020, order was issued in an appeal brought by the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC). It was challenging a lower court’s order in an action that sought public records about the death penalty.

In September 2017, Aliza Cover, a law professor at the University of Idaho College of Law, sought documents from IDOC that relate to: (1) the most current IDOC protocol for executions, (2) the drugs that have been or will be purchased/used in future executions, (3) the use of lethal injection in the 2011 Ezra Rhoades and the 2012 Richard Leavitt executions.

IDOC compiled more than 1,000 documents to meet that request, but it only provided a link to its website for its execution protocol and released 49 documents. In February 2018, Cover filed a petition in the district court under the Idaho Public Records Act and Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 74 to compel further disclosure. IDOC released another 603 pages but argued Rule 135 provided for non-disclosure of records relating to the sources of execution drugs.

The district court held a hearing entered a peremptory writ of mandamus ordering IDOC to release those records, but it allowed redaction of information identifying individuals. IDOC moved for rehearing, arguing Rule 74 required a trial. The court agreed, but after a trial the court ordered the release of all but three sets of documents. It also awarded Cover more than $170,000 in attorney fees and costs.

Both parties appealed. The Idaho Supreme Court found there was no evidence that the Board of Correction considered whether Rule 135’s non-disclosure provision balanced the public interests as required by the Public Records Act. To prevent disclosure under the Act, the Board had to consider whether the ‘‘public interest in confidentiality, the public safety, security, and habilitation clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure.’’

As there was no proof Rule 135 was promulgated under the Act, the documents that Covers sought to be released after redaction of personally identifying information could not be withheld. It also held that documents relating to medical supplies were encompassed under Cover’s request and had to be released. The court further held that IDOC’s untimely claims of exemptions could not constitute a waiver.

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Related legal case

Cover v. Idaho Bd. of Corr.