Roy Lee Ward, 45, who was sentenced to death for the 2001 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl in southwestern Indiana, claimed the DOC cannot simply alter its execution protocol without submitting the proposed change for public review and comment.
In a 3-0 decision, the Indiana Court of Appeals agreed.
It concluded that the DOC execution protocol is not an internal policy, as the agency claimed, but rather an administrative rule with the effect of law that must be adopted through the process set out in the Indiana Administrative Rules and Procedure Act (APRA).
"The General Assembly has defined what a rule is in the context of ARPA. That definition clearly includes the DOC’s execution protocol," wrote Judge John Baker for the appeals court.
"As a matter of law, DOC must comply with ARPA when changing its execution protocol, and its failure to do so in this case means that the changed protocol is void and without effect."
The Supreme Court's decision to grant transfer in the case vacates the Court of Appeals ruling.
The high court now will independently review the facts, hear oral arguments and render a decision, probably sometime next year.
Its five justices are unlikely to allow any executions to proceed while the underlying issue remains in dispute.
None of the 13 individuals sentenced to death in Indiana are scheduled to be executed any time soon, though, due to prior court rulings or pending appeals.
According to court records, the DOC's proposed execution protocol of methohexital, more commonly known by the brand name Brevital, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride — to induce unconsciousness, halt breathing and stop the heart — never has been used by any state, or the federal government, to put someone to death.
It's also not known whether Indiana currently has a sufficient supply of the three drugs to conduct an execution.
Earlier this year, the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb authorized the DOC to take extraordinary steps to secure death penalty drugs in light of a nationwide shortage caused in part by drug manufacturers refusing to sell their products for execution purposes.