Wood v. Ryan

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 07-18-2014
  • Case #: 14-16310
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Thomas for the Court; Circuit Judge Gould; Circuit Judge Bybee dissenting
  • Full Text Opinion

Where a state department of corrections withholds information regarding the method of a prisoner’s impending execution, a district court abuses its discretion in denying a preliminary injunction request delaying the execution until the prisoner receives this information, if: (1) the prisoner has raised serious questions as to the merits of a First Amendment claim; (2) the balance of equities tips sharply in the prisoner’s favor; (3) the prisoner will face irreparable harm if an injunction is not granted; (4) the injunction is in the public interest.

Joseph Wood (“Wood”) was convicted of murdering two people in 1989 and sentenced to die. After Wood had virtually exhausted all legal avenues for potential review, the Arizona Attorney General filed a motion on April 22, 2014, seeking a Warrant of Execution. Granting the motion on May 28, 2014, the Arizona Supreme Court set Wood’s execution date for July 23, 2014. Beginning April 30, 2014, Arizona’s Federal Public Defender’s Capital Habeas Unit sent four letters inquiring as to the method the Department of Corrections (“Department”) would use in executing Wood. Exchanges of correspondence occurred until, on June 25, 2014, the Department sent confirmation it would execute Wood implementing a two-drug protocol, consisting of Midazolam and Hydromorphone. Wood still sought specific information regarding the drugs, the personnel manning the execution, and the Department’s development of the two-drug protocol. Wood and five other capital prisoners filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim in the District of Arizona on June 26, 2014. Wood filed a motion for a preliminary injunction on July 2. The district court denied Wood’s motion. Wood appealed. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of the motion and granted a conditional preliminary injunction. The panel held that where a state department of corrections withholds information regarding the method of a prisoner’s impending execution, a district court abuses its discretion in denying a preliminary injunction request delaying the execution until the prisoner receives this information, if: (1) the prisoner has raised serious questions as to the merits of a First Amendment claim; (2) the balance of equities tips sharply in the prisoner’s favor; (3) the prisoner will face irreparable harm if an injunction is not granted; (4) the injunction is in the public interest. REVERSED.

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