We're working hard to abolish the death penalty in Montana. The system is broken beyond repair. Costly, prone to error and violating the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, the death penalty only creates more victims.
On the legal front, the ACLU of Montana sued the state, challenging the constitutionality of its lethal injection procedure in our case Smith v. Batista. After many years of litigation, Judge Jeffrey Sherlock issued a ruling on October 6th, 2015 that enjoined the State of Montana from using the contreversial drug pentobarbital in its lethal injection protocol - placing Montana in a de facto death penalty moratorium and staying all executions. The ACLU of Montana filed a brief in July 2013 calling for the District Court to declare the Department of Corrections new two-drug lethal injection protocol unlawful because it creates an unreasonable risk of subjecting prisoners to cruel and unusual punishment, violates the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government and was not written in accordance with the public participation procedures outlined in the Montana Administrative Procedures Act.
After the October 2015 trial, Judge Jeffrey Sherlock ruled that pentobarbital is not an "ultra-fasting-acting" barbiturate, as Montana law requires, and therefore cannot be used in lethal injections. The issue was originally scheduled to go to trial in September 2014, but when the state's medical expert withdrew from the case, the state asked for the trial to be postponed.
POLICY AND PUBLIC EDUCATION
Together with the other members of the Montana Abolition Coalition, the ACLU of Montana continues to mobilizes victims' family members, civil liberties supporters, law enforcement, faith leaders and you to end the death penalty.
During the 2013 Montana Legislature, the Coalition supported House Bill 370 to repeal capital punishment and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole. Despite being a truly bipartisan bill, the Montana House Judiciary Committee once again ignored the will of Montanans and voted 11 - 9 to block our effort to repeal the death penalty.
While Montanans remain frustrated with the House Judiciary Committee's unwillingness to let this issue be debated by the full House chamber, the Coalition achieved many successes during the 2013 Legislature. We had unprecedented bipartisan support. Rep. Doug Kary, Rep. Margie MacDonald, Sen. Dave Wanzenried, and Sen. Matt Rosendale deserve to be recognized for their courageous leadership in our fight to repeal the death penalty. As a testimony to their ability to build bridges, a dozen Republicans and most Democrats publicly supported abolition.
Few other issues at the 2013 Legislature generated that kind of bipartisan support. The diverse voices that spoke out for abolition was encouraging-from murder victim family members, corrections workers, faith leaders, a Supreme Court Justice, everyday Montanans, and the list goes on. This is a movement that can only grow. The public debate has shifted in favor of repealing capital punishment in Montana and across the country. In addition, the ACLU has advocated for clemency for Smith, calling on his sentence to be commuted to one of life in prison without the possibility of parole.