MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Friday revived a lawsuit filed by Alabama death-row inmates challenging the state's lethal injection method, including the use of the sedative midazolam at the start of the procedure.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a federal judge prematurely dismissed the inmates' claims and should have held evidentiary hearings on the effectiveness of midazolam. The inmates argue the sedative will not reliably render them unconscious before other drugs are administered to stop their lungs and hearts.
A federal judge had ruled in favor of Alabama, saying the inmates had not met various legal burdens such as showing the availability of other execution methods. The 11th Circuit ruled that the judge "must first determine what risk the current three-drug protocol_with midazolam as the first drug_presents before considering the adequacy of appellants' proposed alternatives."
John Palombi, a lawyer representing the inmates, said he was encouraged by the ruling.
"I'm very pleased that the 11th Circuit has recognized that there are serious questions about the unconstitutionality of this protocol," he said. "We are looking forward to finally getting to present evidence that we believe will demonstrate that the protocol is unconstitutional."
In light of the decision, Palombi said he will ask courts to stay the upcoming execution of two inmates who are scheduled to be put to death in October.
The attorney general's office did not have an immediate response to the ruling.
The state has argued midazolam's use has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and the high court has also allowed multiple executions to proceed in Alabama using the drug.
Attorneys for inmates are expected to point to the December execution of inmate Ronald Bert Smith. Smith coughed for the first 13 minutes of his execution and moved slightly after two consciousness tests. Arthur's lawyers argued the movements showed Smith was awake during his execution. The state responded that there was no evidence Smith experienced pain.