PHOENIX, Ariz. — The Arizona Supreme Court has effectively allowed Governor Katie Hobbs’s independent review of Arizona’s execution procedures to go forward unencumbered by the threat of an imminent execution.
The court previously upheld the governor’s authority to pause executions despite the court’s issuance of a death warrant. Today, it denied a motion to extend a warrant for the execution of Aaron Gunches, from April 6 to May 1. The court’s action apparently means that the execution will not take place in the immediate future.
On January 20, Governor Hobbs announced a pause on all Arizona executions pending an independent review of the state’s execution protocols and administration. In response, the Maricopa County Attorney and crime victims have filed a lawsuit that seeks to force the Hobb’s administration to carry out the death warrant for Gunches, which was issued before the governor instated the execution pause.
In a declaration to the court under penalty of perjury, the new Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry (ADCRR) said that several critical issues impacted his current inability to guarantee a constitutional and lawful execution: inadequate staff knowledge and expertise, the inability to determine if the lethal injection drugs were safe and effective due to unclear expiration dates, and questionable procedures involving the execution team.
There are 110 people on Arizona’s death row.
The following statement can be attributed to Jared Keenan, Legal Director at the ACLU of Arizona:
"The governor is acting well within her executive authority to pause executions pending an independent review. The court has issued a decision that respects the separation of powers and provides clarity for Arizonans moving forward in the state’s administration of the death penalty.
"Administering the death penalty is one of the most serious acts the government undertakes. The public should have information about its administration and, importantly, answers about when things go horribly wrong. That’s what the execution pause allows — it gives us answers, which is what we are owed from our government.
"A pause on all executions is the reasonable and responsible thing to do to establish honesty and transparency about our state’s execution protocols."