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32 States – For Now

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The Arkansas Supreme Court has taken that state out of the execution business — at least temporarily.  Before the court acted on June 22nd, 33 states had active capital punishment statutes on the books.

The Court ruled on state constitutional grounds, not the kind of weighty issues that reach the U.S. Supreme Court — fairness, proportionality, “cruel and unusual punishment” and the like.  The state flaw cited by Arkansas’ top justices was that legislators had delegated too much responsibility to the Department of Corrections.

Ten death-row inmates brought the case to the court, arguing that the state’s separation of powers had been violated by letting the prison system set execution policy.  That job, the court ruled by 5-2, belonged to the legislature.

The ruling does not throw out Arkansas’ death penalty, but it stops executions until new legislation is passed.  40 prisoners await execution on Arkansas’ death row.  The last execution in the state was in 2005.

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