Deborah Fisher: Should execution drugs be a state secret?

From Tennessee Coalition for Open Government: Does the public have a right to know about the drugs used to execute death row inmates?

This question has been raised in recent months in court in at least three states, two of which recently enacted new laws or protocols to keep secret from citizens the source of execution drugs.

In 2011, at least six states, including Tennessee, had their execution drugs seized or taken by the DEA after it became clear that the drugs had been imported illegally.

States have sought to keep their new suppliers secret, reasoning that the companies might be harassed or otherwise influenced to shut off supplies if the public became aware of them.

Tennessee added an exemption in the Tennessee Open Records Act eight months ago in April to exempt from disclosure “an entity” directly involved in an execution.

Previously, the law allowed only for the names of people directly involved – such as those on the execution team – to be kept confidential.

The updated law explains that the entity could be one “involved in the procurement or provision of chemicals, equipment, supplies and other items for use in carrying out a sentence of death…”

The Tennessean reported in October that the Department of Correction had been waiting, in part, to get the confidentiality law in place before establishing its new lethal injection protocol that uses pentobarbital, common in animal euthanasia.

If the new one-drug protocol had been announced before the law change, it’s conceivable that a citizen might have requested information under the state’s open records act to successfully discover the drug supplier.

Visit Tennessee Coalition for Open Government for more.

Deborah Fisher is the Executive Director of Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. –eds