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Judge Says Montana Must Change Execution Method

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Photo courtesy of stevendepolo/Flickr

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A legal victory for death penalty foes in Montana could be short-lived.

The American Civil Liberties Union argued in the case of Canadian citizen Ronald Allen Smith that lethal injection protocol amounts to cruel and unusual punishment under the U.S. and Montana constitutions.

A judge ruled Thursday the state’s current method of execution is unconstitutional because the protocol doesn’t ensure qualified individuals are making key decisions, such as verifying that the inmate is unconscious and incapable of feeling pain before administration of the death drugs.

But the judge said needed changes can be easily made by the state — although it could require legislative changes. The Legislature meets again in January.

State assistant attorney general C. Mark Fowler said his office is studying the opinion and deciding what options there are to modify the protocol. In the meantime, no executions are scheduled.

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