April 21st, 2015
The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.
COLUMBIA, Mo. – In the Middle Ages, executioners carrying out death penalties were shrouded in black hoods to protect their identities. Now, in states that allow capital punishment, executioners’ identities are protected by law. Furthermore, many states have laws protecting the identities of pharmaceutical companies that manufacture lethal injection drugs. Sandra Davidson, a Curators Teaching Professor of communications law in the University of Missouri School of Journalism, says these laws prevent transparency.
“In the case of capital punishment, the government is using lethal force outside of war,” Davidson, an adjunct professor in the MU School of Law, said. “The process of convicting and sentencing criminals is transparent. However, once someone is sentenced to death, a metaphorical executioner’s hood is placed over the entire process. It is concerning that the public is not afforded the right of access to information to such serious governmental actions.”
Many states are running out of lethal injection drugs and are searching for new sources for those drugs. Davidson says her concern is increased by recent changes in drug protocols in states where lethal injection is lawful. She says that as governments are changing the processes for executing criminals, the public is left in the dark about what drugs are used and how they are utilized.
“Recently, reports have been made public about lethal injections taking too long to work, nearly two hours in one case, during which time the person being executed experienced extreme pain,” Davidson said. “These kinds of executions could be classified as cruel and unusual punishments, but we don’t know for sure because the information about how these drugs work is kept private. Citizens need to understand the process that is being carried out in their names. Transparency gives citizens confidence in their government, and right now, there is very little transparency.”
Davidson says that while she understands why executioners’ identities are kept private, protecting the identities of manufacturers of execution drugs is extending the umbrella of secrecy too far.
Davidson’s scholarly article, written with graduate student Michael Barajas, was published in the St. Louis University Law Journal.