Lack of agreement further delays debate on capital punishmentRaleigh | The failure of the state to reach an agreement with the N.C. Medical Board over the role doctors can ethically play in executions could keep capital punishment on hold for some time as lawmakers and others try to untangle a confusing legal mess.
"Where things sit in the courts, unless the legislature acts, we are going to have what the governor has referred to as a de facto moratorium for a period of probably 12 to 24 months," Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said Friday.
Experts differed Friday on how a dispute that involves so many parties - a state and federal court, state correction officials and prosecutors, defense attorneys and the medical board - might be resolved. Some said one of the courts might be able to find a solution, while others insisted that lawmakers will eventually have to get involved.
"Somebody has got to figure out what a procedure should be," said Richard Rosen, a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law. "The legislature is the body that decides the method of capital punishment."
Months after a federal judge ruled an execution could only proceed if a doctor monitored the condemned inmate to prevent pain, the medical board in January threatened to punish physicians who take part in an execution. The state's efforts to resolve that conflict created a legal morass that led Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens to place four scheduled executions on hold.
Things could get even more confusing next week, when the state is scheduled to execute convicted killer Allen Holman. He wants to be executed and has fired his lawyers, meaning there is no one to seek a stay on his behalf - a request a court would surely grant in the current environment. Officials haven't said how that case will be addressed.
The dispute made North Carolina the 11th state where some form of challenge to lethal injection - namely, whether it violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment - has effectively placed executions on hold. The question of doctor participation has figured in some of those disputes.