LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Attorneys for death row inmates in Arkansas say part of their lawsuit over how the state executes its condemned prisoners is still valid, even though the state surrendered its supply of a key lethal-injection drug in question.
The state's correction officials are "free to import other unregulated drugs in violation of the United States' import laws," assistant federal defender Scott Braden wrote in the latest court filing in Pulaski County.
He and other defense attorneys across the country have said drugs that aren't approved by the FDA could cause unnecessary pain and suffering as inmates are put to death. The Constitution bars cruel and unusual punishment.
Braden's response, filed Thursday, comes after the Arkansas Department of Correction last month gave to federal officials a stash of sodium thiopental it received from a British company called Dream Pharma. The Drug Enforcement Administration had previously seized that drug from several other states who obtained it from the same supplier.
After Arkansas turned over its sodium thiopental to federal officials, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's office argued the part of Arkansas lawsuit that questions the use of drugs should be considered moot.
McDaniel spokesman Aaron Sadler declined to comment. Spokeswomen for the correction agency were reviewing the suit on Friday afternoon.
Arkansas has no pending executions, in part because the inmates' lawsuit hasn't been resolved. But even if an execution were set, the state wouldn't be able to carry it out without finding another supplier or switching to a different drug.
The state hasn't put anyone to death since 2005.
Aside from the question over sodium thiopental, attorneys for death row inmates argue that legislators didn't have the authority to transfer responsibility for execution policies from the Legislature to the Department of Correction in 2009, calling the move a violation of the state Constitution.
Pulaski County Judge Tim Fox is slated to hear from the attorneys in the case Monday.
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