|California's brand new death chamber|
A Supreme Court decision upholding a controversial drug used in lethal injection executions in Oklahoma starts the clock for California to come up with its own injection procedures, thus increasing the chance executions could resume here.
The justices on Monday ruled 5-4 that the sedative midazolam, which was implicated in several botched executions and is the 1st of 3 drugs in Oklahoma's lethal injection cocktail, can be used without violating the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
State and federal court decisions have prevented California from using its 3-drug lethal injection protocol, contributing to a 9-year hiatus in executions. One was a federal judge's ruling that the state's 3-drug lethal injection protocol could result in excessive pain. But after families of homicide victims sued the state in November in an effort to end delays, prison officials agreed this month to submit proposed regulations for a new lethal injection procedure - a precursor to resuming executions - within 120 days of the Supreme Court decision.
"I very much doubt that (California corrections officials) would use midazolam, but whatever they adopt I think the Supreme Court has raised the bar for anyone wanting to challenge it" with this decision, said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which represented the families in the lawsuit.
However, Matt Cherry of Death Penalty Focus, which opposes capital punishment, said he doesn't think the Supreme Court decision in the Glossip v. Gross case will help or hinder California's procedures.
"I think you're talking about a very different protocol in California," Cherry said. "And I think that California would have its own standards and the court would have its own standards for what is cruel and unusual."
The state now has until Oct. 27 to come up with a new lethal injection protocol, Scheidegger said. Corrections officials say they have been developing regulations for a single-drug protocol but have yet to propose one, an effort they say has been complicated by a nationwide challenge in accessing drugs.
Despite the movement, executions are not expected to resume anytime soon. Before a final protocol can be adopted, there is a formal administrative process of notice and comment. The state must consider comments made about the draft regulations and revise them if it deems it necessary, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
Once the protocol is established according to state law and adopted, it is expected to be legally challenged as past procedures have been, he said.
There are 751 condemned inmates in the state as of Monday, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. More than 900 people have been sentenced to death in the state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, but only 13 have been executed here, as well as 1 in Missouri. In contrast, 101 condemned inmates have died by other means: 67 of natural causes, 24 by suicide, 7 from incidents such as drug overdoses or homicide, and 3 deaths that have yet to be classified, according to the department. Regardless of the hiatus on executions, appeals in capital cases often take 2 decades before a decision is made.
Last year a federal judge ruled the state's death penalty system was unconstitutional, which if upheld could ultimately commute all death sentences to life in prison.
Source: Los Angeles Daily News, June 30, 2015
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