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Court Refuses to Lift Arizona Governor's Execution Moratorium

Avoiding a separation-of-powers clash, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that it cannot force Gov. Katie Hobbs to carry out an execution that she put on hold pending a review of the state's execution process, the Arizona Republic reports. The court said its role is to “issue a warrant of execution that authorizes the director of the state department of corrections to carry out the execution.” But the law does not mandate the governor act on the warrant. The court acknowledged that the Arizona Constitution provides that the governor “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed," and that the governor is obligated to protect victims' rights to justice and due process, but it said those were "mixed questions of law and fact that are not properly before us."

The ruling came in the case of death row prisoner Aaron Gunches, who was sentenced to death for the 2002 kidnapping and murder of his girlfriend's former boyfriend. In January, the newly elected Hobbs, reacting to concerns about the safety and effectiveness of the state's execution protocol, put Gunches' execution on hold and announced an independent review of the process. A crime victim advocate representing the sister of Gunches' victim then filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking for the sentence to be carried out. In a joint response from attorneys for Hobbs and newly appointed Department of Corrections Director Ryan Thornell, the state argued it was not currently able to exercise “its most awesome and irreversible power.” Thornell said in a declaration that the Department of Corrections lacks the staff “with the necessary institutional knowledge and expertise to conduct an execution.” According to Thornell, the drugs used for executions require updated efficacy testing, and the department has not been able to identify and contract with execution team members who would administer the drugs.


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