BOISE, Idaho — Idaho prison officials must turn over information about where they got lethal injection drugs used in recent executions, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday, the latest turn in a long-running challenge over transparency in executions that’s playing out nationwide.
The high court’s ruling was a win for University of Idaho professor Aliza Cover, who studies how the public interacts with the death penalty. She filed a public records request with the Idaho Department of Correction in 2017 seeking execution-related documents. The department largely denied the request, sending her 49 pages of documents and a link to information on its website about protocols.
However, Idaho prison officials had more than 2,000 pages of documents related to her request, including receipts and other information that showed where the state obtained lethal injection drugs used in its two most recent executions and how much it paid for them.
Prison officials have long said they fear they won’t be able to obtain drugs for future executions if their suppliers believe they could be exposed. Major pharmaceutical companies have refused to sell medications to states if they think they will be used for executions, forcing some states to look for more novel sources, including compounding pharmacies and drugs from other countries like India.
Legal battles in other states have ended with courts ordering prisons to release information on their suppliers, including this year in Nebraska. More than a dozen states have passed laws since 2011 preventing the release of information about the source of their execution drugs, while several other states have invoked existing laws or regulations to keep that information secret.
In Idaho, Cover, represented by the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, sued for the documents in 2018. Last year, a judge sided with her, saying officials had to turn over much of the info, including documents that name the supplier of the drugs used in the 2012 execution of Richard Albert Leavitt.
That judge said the information could be released because the compounding pharmacy that provided the drugs can no longer supply Idaho because it can’t comply with current regulations. But that ruling said another document, could be withheld because that company might provide drugs for future executions.
In Friday’s unanimous opinion, the high court said the administrative rule that Idaho used to justify denying much of the information has no connection to public records law, so it can’t be cited as the reason for withholding the documents.