In 1999, the ACLU of Ohio challenged an Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction policy preventing death-row inmates from speaking their “last words.” Under the policy, prisoners had to write down their final statement, and prison officials could choose to read all, part, or none of it. The ACLU argued that this practice was a clear violation of prisoners’ First Amendment rights and filed a complaint asking for an injunction to prevent this practice. ACLU lawyers Kevin O’Neill, Raymond Vasvari, Michael Benza, George Carr, and Ian Hoffman pointed out that a prisoner’s right to utter his or her last words is one of the oldest free speech rights in the Anglo-American tradition, dating to at least 500 years ago; it was recorded as early as 1388. Ultimately, the state of Ohio and the ACLU settled the lawsuit. Prison officials must now provide death row inmates with a microphone and allow a spoken statement before the execution. The agreement also prohibits any “unreasonable” restrictions on the duration of a prisoner’s final words.
Read the complaint that the ACLU filed.