South Carolina’s top legal office is arguing that state law already allows pharmaceutical companies to confidentially provide execution drugs. If true, that could clear a path for South Carolina to obtain the drugs it says it lacks to perform lethal injections.
The state Department of Corrections has not executed a Death Row inmate since 2011. Agency director Bryan Stirling has said pharmaceutical companies — worried about public backlash — have stopped selling execution drugs like pentobarbital to states. The European Union has also barred any corporations headquartered there from selling any drugs to entities and governments that plan to use them in capital punishment. South Carolina law allows inmates to choose their execution method. Most select lethal injection.
Stirling has been pushing to change state law so that pharmacies mixing the drugs would be confidential — the same secrecy that state law already uses for personnel who are involved in the execution itself. A bill that would change South Carolina law to match Georgia’s confidentiality requirements failed to overcome opposition in the Senate this year.
But an opinion by the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office released this week suggests such a legal change may not require Statehouse approval. Assistant Attorney General Brendan McDonald wrote that a broad interpretation of the state’s confidentiality laws may already cover the companies. “We believe the phrase ‘member of an execution team’ must be broadly construed to include an individual or company providing or participating in the preparation of chemical compounds intended for use by the Department of Corrections for ‘carrying out an order of execution by lethal injection.'”
The opinion is just meant to be advisory and is not legally binding. Stirling told the Associated Press he still plans to seek legislative approval first.
Death penalty opponents say such secrecy laws raise legal issues. Death Penalty Information Center director Rob Dunham has previously argued inmates would not know if the chemical compounds involved could be considered “cruel and unusual punishment.”