Testimony to the Governors Commission on Administration of Lethal Injection
Larry Helm Spalding
Legislative Staff Counsel
American Civil Liberties Union of Florida
19 February 2007
I am Larry Helm Spalding, Legislative Staff Counsel to the ACLU of Florida, speaking on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
The death penalty is the most extreme and irreversible punishment offered in Florida. So long as the state kills in the name of its citizens, those citizens must have access to reliable information about the execution process. They must be able to understand the lethal injection protocol in order to assure themselves that the application of the punishment aligns with their ideals of decency and the common good. When, for example, the lethal injection protocol is changed or amended, the state has an obligation to make those changes in an open forum, subject to public scrutiny.
The media functions as the eyes and ears of the public, therefore to keep the citizenry informed about execution procedures, the media must be allowed to operate in the full capacity granted to them by the Constitution.
Allowing the media as much access to the execution procedure as possible serves a legitimate public interest, yet under the current Florida execution protocols there are several ways in which the medias observation is limited. The media should not be limited to only a small segment of the execution procedure, but should be permitted access from beginning to end, including the prisoner entering the chamber and being strapped down and the IV insertion, the reading of the warrant, and the removal of the body from the gurney. Furthermore, we believe that the public address system should be left on throughout the procedure. Much of the confusion surrounding the Diaz execution, for example, could have been avoided with a more open process.
Lethal injection is a very precise and technical process that must be carefully administered to ensure that it is humane. The procedure has many possibilities for error, and only trained medical staff may be able to recognize or address these problems. Therefore, the state should engage qualified medical personnel in the development and implementation of its execution protocols to ensure that this punishment lives up to the level of humaneness that advocates of the procedure proclaim now exist.
The American Civil Liberties Union has long declared its opposition to the death penalty. We believe that this punishment is the ultimate denial of civil liberties, is a costly, irreversible and barbaric practice, the epitome of cruel and unusual punishment. Regardless of one’s viewpoint about the morality or constitutionality of the death penalty, it cannot be disputed that if we are to continue executing people in Florida, it must be carried out in a humane manner. I urge you to fight inhumane executions by enabling citizens, the media, and qualified medical personnel meaningful oversight in the development and implementation of Florida’s execution protocol.
Thank you for your consideration.