The state of Arkansas has been executing people since 1820.
The Arkansas criminal code today provides for the death penalty or life without parole upon conviction of capital murder or treason. The law provides that capital murder charges are to be tried in Circuit Court with mandatory review by the Arkansas Supreme Court. Conviction will result in one of two sentences: death by lethal injection or life in prison without possibility of parole. The trial is conducted in two phases – guilt/innocence and penalty. The jury must vote unanimously to impose the death penalty. Otherwise the trial judge must impose life without parole. In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that capital punishment was unconstitutional (Furman v. Georgia). The death penalty was reenacted in Arkansas in 1973 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Gregg v. Georgia in 1976 affirmed the new execution procedures. In 1983, the General Assembly adopted lethal injection as the method of execution.
In 1993, the criminal code was amended to create a mitigating circumstance for mental retardation in capital murder cases. This change in the law occurred in large part due to public reaction to the execution of Ricky Ray Rector on January 24, 1992, under the administration of Governor Bill Clinton. The Arkansas governor has the power to grant clemency, a power that has been used only once since the death penalty was reenacted in 1977, when Governor Mike Huckabee commuted the death sentence of Bobby Ray Fretwell on February 5, 1999.
The death penalty continues to draw support from both political parties and a majority of the citizens of Arkansas. However, that support has declined over the last decade as questions about fairness without regard to race or ethnicity and the fear of executing an innocent person. In fact, the 2009 General Assembly established a Legislative Task Force on Criminal Justice to study critical issues regarding major felonies including capital punishment.
As of August 15, 2011, executions in Arkansas have been halted because of a lawsuit over executions and the quality of the mixture of chemicals used in Arkansas’ lethal injection procedures. One of the most recent abolition efforts was action around requiring interrogations to be recorded.