Thursday, March 31, 2011

TDCJ secured death-house drugs under long-expired license

Though from a public-policy perspective I could care less by what method executions are carried out, one has to be impressed with the investigation that allowed death penalty opponents to make this argument, as Jordan Smith reported in the Austin Chronicle:
According to lawyers for condemned inmate Cleve Foster, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has been illegally purchasing lethal injection drugs. According to the attorneys, Maurie Levin of UT School of Law, and Sandra Babcock of Northwestern University School of Law, the state's prison agency has been purchasing controlled substances – including drugs used for lethal injections – under the Drug Enforcement Administration registration certificate assigned to an entity that hasn't existed for nearly 30 years. "[A]s a result, we believe that TDCJ is unlawfully in possession of an unlawfully dispensing controlled substances," the lawyers wrote in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

The problem, it appears, is that TDCJ has been purchasing controlled substances under a registration number assigned to the system's Huntsville Unit Hospital, which, it turns out, has been closed since 1983. TDCJ medical services are provided by the UTMB, and although the med system has "numerous DEA registration numbers, none of them is actually registered to either the Huntsville Unit," which has been purchasing the drugs, or to the address listed on the registration. "DEA Registration numbers must be renewed every three years," write the lawyers, who are representing Foster, scheduled to be executed April 5. "Assuming the DEA registration number used by TDCJ last month to purchase controlled substances was one originally issued to the Huntsville Unit Hospital, TDCJ has failed, on information and belief, to advise the DEA for the past twenty-eight years of the fact that the Huntsville Unit Hospital no longer exists," and that what actually exists at that location is a prison unit with a warden that is "purchasing and dispensing controlled substances" with a number "registered to a nonexistent entity."

Uh-oh. That doesn't sound so good. And neither does this: According to the lawyers, it appears that the drugs aren't being kept at a pharmacy or by a DEA-registered handler. "At no point is an appropriately licensed or authorized practitioner involved in the dispensing process, and at no point is a prescription written to transfer the controlled substances to a member of the execution team," the lawyers write.
Fascinating. The issue of physician participation in capital punishment is an old and vexed one; I wonder if this is happening because UTMB would not let TDCJ secure execution drugs under their pharmacy license? I can't think of another situation where a controlled substance would be authorized by non-physicians or maintained by un-registered, non-pharmacist handlers.

Even if TDCJ changes their DEA registration to an active entity, that won't resolve questions about the drugs already obtained. There are seven executions scheduled so far this year, with one set for next week; I wouldn't be surprised to see executions postponed over this.

I am not personally a death penalty abolitionist. But even I can see that the faux medicalization of capital punishment through lethal injection is mainly a public-relations ploy, allowing the state to pretend executions are somehow a medical procedure analogous to others performed by healers instead of premeditated, calculated killing. (Consider the absurdist vanity of sterilizing the injection site with alcohol before administering lethal drugs.) The firing squad, hanging, guillotine, even a single bullet to the back of the head would all work just as well. Indeed, a strong argument can be made that a firing squad or bullet to the head may be more "humane." But those methods of killing are messy and difficult to watch, while killing via lethal injection gives the practice a veneer of professionalism and decorum that makes it more acceptable to a squeamish public.

Barring torture and/or intentional prolonging of suffering, IMO the method of killing is far less important than the decision to kill itself, by whatever means. The punishment for murder is the same, after all, whether one uses a knife, gun, garrote, or pushes their victim off the top of a tall building. Similarly, I don't see why it makes much difference how the state kills people it plans to execute, which is why it doesn't seem worth it for the TDCJ to violate federal laws governing controlled substances just to keep the death-house machinery up and running.

11 comments:

Prison Doc said...

One has to admire the thoroughness, tenacity, and dedication of the attorneys involved even though I don't support their intended result.

sunray's wench said...

But surely if a state or other public governmental body is going to do something like take another human being's life, they ought to do it in a way that is absolutely within all the laws of that state at all times?

If they can break their own laws with this, one has to question what other laws the state feels it can ignore when it suits.

Hook Em Horns said...

Texas won't let anything, not even the law, stand in the way of Texecutions! Priceless!

Anonymous said...

The only difference between the pressed uniforms and the non pressed uniforms is those in the pressed uniforms haven’t been convicted yet.

Think about it, we don’t have a society governed by law. It’s a war on society using laws. The masquerade of a war on drugs is nothing more than different ideology’s competing with the level of unreasonableness resulting in a war.
Like with the border drug importers, LEOS overwhelmed with pusillanimous, won’t do anything outside of harassing soccer mom’s with a prescription problem or a crack ho trying to make a living. Texecutions will go one even with TDCJ being an illegal drug distributer. Again it’s not about a law abiding society so it’s not hypocritical, it’s about a war on our society.

Anonymous said...

I vote for the bullet by firing squad. Nothing illegal about that. I agree Texas (and other states) like to gussy up executions to make them pleasing to the screaming "Kill Em" mobs. Capital punishment is calculated by murder by the state so we can stop more murders. That's what's so absurd.

The Homeless Cowboy said...

Gee Fellas, as I see it here in the great state of Texas we now have no choice its a mater of law . We must arrest and prosecute the last 30 years worth of Wardens and TDCJ Directors that were presiding over the executions for 1st degree murder and when convicted, put them to death as quickly as possible. We cannot allow these heinous murderers to walk the streets with good people. Not only have they been involved in a conspiracy to purchase, possess, and distribute controlled substances, they have systematically caused the deaths of many people with callous disregard for the laws of the great State of Texas. These felons should be held to the standards of all other citizens of this state. They should be arrested, tried, incarcerated, and executed for the terrible crimes they have committed against the citizenry of our land.

The Homeless Cowboy said...

That was NOT an APRIL FOOL Comment

Anonymous said...

I have to say I agree with Homeless Cowboy; what I have found is that the people who are locking up our citizenry are WORST than the criminals they guard! My husband is in there for a bad check written 20 years ago; there are cops out there raping, molesting, robbing, and worst, and yet they are allowed to get away with it? There is NO justice in Texas, only God's divine justice that will eventually prevail!

SEMPERFINE said...

Kudos to Ms. Levin for finding a semi-valid argument, after 20+ years of anti-DP effort, that may have some effect on accomplishing her ultimate goal of halting executions by any means necessary. Why so long?
All this will do, in best case, for Ms. Levin anyway, is to once again delay executions until it's resolved in the various Court's, and we can once again start carrying out the lawful punishment imposed by 12 Texas peers.
However, if played correctly, Ms. Levin may have just played a trump card that will have the temporary effect she desired.

Tom Bombadil said...

Oh, how the lawyers love to straighten the deck chairs on the Titanic. If we're going to have a death penalty in Texas, we should offer several methods of execution and let the condemned choose for themselves. If they can pick their last meal, why not the method of Their End?

We argue about the trivial matters of lethal injection drugs when the real problems, like that of Cameron Todd Willingham (innocent but executed in 2004), remain in the penumbra of public awareness.

Anonymous said...

Just how big a check did your husband write to get 20 years?