FAN 99.5 (First Amendment News) Execution secrecy bill passed by Mississippi Senate

Attorney General Jim Hood applauded the Mississippi Senate today for approving a measure intended to protect the safety of the individuals responsible for carrying out executions. Senate Bill No. 2237 would protect the identities of the state executioner and members of the execution team, and would also keep confidential the names of the local supplier or suppliers of lethal injection drugs located in the State of Mississippi. The bill was drafted by the Attorney General’s Office, and it is part of the Attorney General’s legislative agenda. — Office of Attorney General Tim Hood, March 1, 2016

Mississippi Senator Sean Tindell introduced Senate Bill No. 2237, which in relevant part provides

“The identities of all members of the execution team, a supplier of lethal injection chemicals, and the identities of those witnesses listed in Section 99-19-55(2) who attend as members of the victim’s or the condemned person’s immediate family shall at all times remain confidential, and the information is exempt from disclosure under the provisions of the Mississippi Public Records Act of 1983.”

Senator Sean Tindell

Senator Sean Tindell

“Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, any portion of any record of any kind that could identify a person as being a current or former member of an execution team or a current or former supplier of lethal injection chemicals, or those witnesses listed in Section 99-19-55(2), shall be privileged and shall only be subject to discovery, subpoena, or other means of legal compulsion for disclosure by order of a court of competent jurisdiction, and the remainder of the record shall not be privileged or closed unless protected from disclosure by law.”

“A person may not knowingly disclose the identity of a current or former member of an execution team, a current or former supplier of lethal injection chemicals, or witness who wishes to remain confidential, or disclose any record of any kind knowing that it could identify a person as being a current or former member of an execution team, current or former supplier of lethal injection chemicals or confidential witness.  Any person whose identity is disclosed in violation of this section shall:

(a)  Have a civil cause of action against a person who violates this section;

(b)  Be entitled to recover from any such person:

(i)  Actual damages; and

(ii)  Punitive damages on a showing of a willful violation of this section. . . .”

The bill passed 32-18 and is currently being held in the Senate on a motion to reconsider.

Press Opposition

  • “‘If we’re going to be in the business of putting people to death, there needs to be as much openness as possible,’ said Layne Bruce, executive director of the Mississippi Press Association.”
  • “[G]overnment secrecy coupled with prior restraint — the gag of state censorship — is unacceptable. — Geoff Pender, Clarion Ledger
  • “If there is anything that should be completely transparent, it is everything related to the state’s taking the life of one of its citizens. [This bill] rightfully should send chills down the spine of every Mississippian who values the civil liberties guaranteed by a free and unfettered press. This is Mississippi, not the old Soviet Union, not some banana republic, and this cannot be allowed to stand.” — Ray Mosby, Deer Creek Pilot

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