Execution halted

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada threw what one of its officials called a Hail Mary pass, and it was caught.

Halting the execution of a death row inmate who wants to be executed is extremely difficult. ACLU of Nevada tried it and failed in the 1979 case of inmate Jesse Bishop. This time, however, a brief drafted by northern Nevada ACLU coordinator Lee Rowland did the trick in stopping the execution of William Castillo. Besides the widely reported argument on the constitutionality of lethal injection, Rowland’s brief included a plea on behalf of Ahora editor Mario DelaRosa—"As a newspaper editor, Mr. DelaRosa has standing because, as explained further below, the lethal injection protocol selected by the [prison] director violates Mr. DelaRosa’s First Amendment interest in attending, meaningfully observing, and reporting on important information at executions administered by the director on behalf of the people of Nevada.”

That brought a First Amendment factor into the case and allowed the ACLU to argue, “While a presumption of constitutionality exists in most contexts, the reverse is true for a First Amendment challenge to a content-based restriction on fully-protected expression.”

The Nevada Supreme Court’s 20-day stay directs both sides to make cases not just for the issues raised in the ACLU petition of the constitutionality of lethal injection and the rights of an observer to the execution, but also whether the parties to the petition “have standing to bring” it.