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Attorney General Marty Jackley

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Rhines’ Court Upholds the Constitutionality of South Dakota’s Lethal Injection Protocol


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE :  Thursday, February 28, 2013
CONTACT:  Sara Rabern (605)773-3215   

Rhines’ Court Upholds the Constitutionality of South Dakota’s Lethal Injection Protocol

PIERRE, S.D.-   Today Judge Trimble of the Seventh Circuit Court in Pennington County issued an opinion rejecting Charles Russell Rhines’ constitutional challenge to South Dakota’s method of execution protocol.  Rhines is on death row for the 1992 murder of Donnivan Schaeffer in Rapid City.

Rhines filed a habeas corpus action claiming that South Dakota’s protocol violated constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.  Rhines alleged that he faced a substantial risk of pain because the protocol did not assure that the lethal drug would be sufficiently potent or properly administered.

The Trial Court found that South Dakota’s protocol, which is modeled on one approved by the United States Supreme Court, does not pose a risk of unconstitutional pain and suffering.  “Lethal injection is the most humane manner of implementing the death penalty,” the Court wrote in its opinion.  The Court concluded that “South Dakota’s lethal injection protocol is substantially similar to, and in many respects more protective than” the protocol approved by the United States Supreme Court and, therefore, is “constitutional on its face.”

South Dakota currently uses a single dose of pentobarbital to carry out executions.  This protocol was used in the October 2012 executions of Donald Eugene Moeller and Eric Donald Robert, that were witnessed by the media.

“The Court’s decision affirms that the state has taken precautions in drafting and implementing its lethal injection protocol to assure that it meets constitutional requirements,” said Jackley.  “Today’s decision is an important step forward in carrying out the jury and court’s decision and holding Charles Rhines accountable for his horrific actions from over 20 years ago.”

Rhines can appeal Judge Trimble’s decision to the South Dakota Supreme Court and then to the federal courts.