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Ohio ACLU seeks to open executions

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Ohio ACLU seeks to open executions

  • Civil liberties organization sues state over limited public viewing of state-sponsored executions.

Oct. 7, 2003 — The American Civil Liberties Union in Ohio recently filed a lawsuit against the state, arguing that witnesses and the media should be allowed to see state-sponsored executions from start to finish.

The federal civil rights suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Columbus Sept. 25, seeks to prohibit Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections prison officials from limiting what witnesses and the media see during an execution. According to The Associated Press, ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Raymond Vasvari said the state has been “sugarcoating” executions by showing death row inmates to witness only after IV shunts have been placed in the inmate’s arms.

“What they’ve done is taken the process of judicially taking a man’s life and reduced it to a minor surgical procedure,” said Vasvari, according to the AP story. “The state is trying to sanitize . . . state-sponsored killing.”

The suit is the latest effort by the ACLU of Ohio to draw public awareness to capital punishment and its place in American society. A group of Democratic state lawmakers, supported by the ACLU, recently drafted legislation that would place a moratorium on all executions while officials study how the law is applied.

Thirty-eight states currently have a death penalty, yet few states have specific by-laws governing how much of an execution the public is allowed to see.

In August 2002, the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) ruled that the public has a First Amendment right to see executions from beginning to end.

“The public and press historically have been allowed to watch the condemned inmate enter the execution place, be attached to the execution device and then die,” wrote Ninth Circuit Judge Raymond C. Fisher.

(ACLU v. Ohio) VR

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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