Death Penalty

Okla. Supreme Court issues 11th-hour stays to 2 pending executions

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The Oklahoma Supreme Court has stayed the pending executions of two death row inmates whose fates have become entwined in an ongoing jurisdictional battle with a lower court.

The two inmates have successfully challenged the constitutionality of the state’s so-called supplier-secrecy law, which had allowed the state to keep secret the sources of the drugs it uses to conduct executions, the New York Times reports.

But the supreme court and the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals have since become embroiled in a legal tug-of-war over which court now has jurisdiction over the two cases, the Times says.

The battle began in late March, when a state court judge held that death row inmates have a right to know where the state gets the drugs it uses to conduct executions. The judge said it was up to the Court of Criminal Appeals to handle requests for stays while those cases play out.

But the appellate court said it had no jurisdiction to issue stays because neither inmate had an appeal pending before it.

The supreme court responded by telling the court of criminal appeals that it should handle the requests for stays. But the appellate court balked, saying the supreme court didn’t have the authority “to manufacture jurisdiction” in a case merely by “transferring” it there.

On Monday, the supreme court blasted the appellate court for putting it in such an “awkward position.” But it also said it had no choice but to issue stays, saying it could not allow the two condemned men to be executed “without access to the courts for resolution of their ‘grave’ constitutional claims.”

Lawyers for the two men said they were relieved by the stays.

But Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt reacted angrily, issuing a statement saying the supreme court had “acted in an extraordinary and unprecedented manner, resulting in a constitutional crisis” for the state.

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