Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

Efforts to revive death penalty in California dealt another blow

San Quentin's death chamber
San Quentin's death chamber
California rejects proposed new death penalty rules

Efforts to revive the death penalty in California were dealt another blow late last month when a state agency tasked with reviewing regulatory changes rejected a proposed new lethal injection protocol.

The decision by the Office of Administrative Law came one day after the California Supreme Court blocked implementation of Proposition 66, an initiative passed by voters in November to expedite capital punishment, pending the outcome of a lawsuit.

In a 25-page decision of disapproval released on Dec. 28, the OAL cited inconsistencies and ambiguities in the protocol, insufficient justification for some regulations and a need for further response to public comments.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has four months to resubmit its proposal. Spokeswoman Terry Thornton said the department plans to fix the issues identified by the OAL.

Executions were halted in 2006 because of legal challenges alleging that California’s lethal injection method violated the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The corrections department began developing a new protocol last year that replaced its old three-drug cocktail with a 7.5-gram, single-drug dose of one of four barbiturates: amobarbital, pentobarbital, secobarbital or thiopental.

Among the questions raised by the OAL was why inmates would be injected with 7.5 grams of a barbiturate when corrections officials acknowledged 5 grams is a sufficiently lethal dose. It also asked for additional explanations on a $50 limit for inmates’ last meals and why inmates would be offered the option of taking a sedative before the execution begins.

The majority of the decision focused on ambiguities in the protocol that the OAL said needed to be clarified. These included the timeline for steps taken in the days and hours leading up to an execution, how to proceed if an inmate does not immediately die, what sedative options are available and who must administer them, what proposed monthly “security and operational inspections” of the execution chamber would entail, and under what conditions a warden should raise inquiry into an inmate’s sanity.

Source: The Sacramento Bee, Alexei Koseff, January 4, 2017

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