ACLU Urges Changes to Oregon Death Penalty Procedures

August 2011 – The ACLU of Oregon has urged the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) to make major changes in its procedures for carrying out the death penalty in order to lessen the risk of a botched execution in Oregon.

The ACLU opposes the death penalty, but also has done work nationwide to educate the public and government officials regarding the unnecessary and excruciating pain that has resulted during some lethal injection executions in other states that use similar procedures to Oregon. There have been only two previous executions by lethal injection in Oregon and the most recent took place in 1997 – fourteen years ago.

On May 18, 2011, a Death Warrant was issued authorizing and commanding that Gary Haugen be executed. Mr. Haugen, who has been on death row in Oregon since 2007, decided to waive his remaining appeals of his death sentence.  The Oregon Supreme Court stopped this process, for the time being, and ordered an additional assessment of Mr. Haugen’s mental capacity to make this decision. If carried out, Mr. Haugen’s execution would be the first in Oregon since 1996 and 1997, when two other inmates chose to waive their remaining appeals and were executed.

While the Courts determine Mr. Haugen’s competency to make this decision, the Oregon Department of Corrections is proceeding to modify its administrative rules regarding the steps it must take in carrying out a death sentence. In Oregon, death is by lethal injection.  Oregon has used the three-drug protocol, as do many other states. However, in recent years one of the key drugs used in lethal injection protocols is no longer manufactured and available in the United States. This has led some states to obtain the drugs in unlawful manners or to change their lethal injection to a one-drug protocol. There is sufficient and credible evidence that the drugs used in the three-drug protocol allow for the inmate to suffer great pain. This is avoidable and, therefore, inhumane to continue such a practice.

The ACLU opposes the death penalty as a cruel and unusual punishment and as a penalty that is contrary to our country’s constitutional principles of due process, fairness and equal protection under the law. In states such as Oregon where the three-drug lethal injection protocol exists, ACLU has urged the adoption of a one-drug policy.