A Sacramento Superior Court judge has issued a ruling requiring that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) defend itself in a lawsuit claiming that it has needlessly delayed executions of condemned murderers for the past nine years. The lawsuit, which was filed by the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation on behalf of the families of murder victims, seeks to force the CDCR to adopt a single-drug execution protocol which is currently used in several other states. In a ruling made available late yesterday, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shellyanne Chang determined that CDCR is required by law to adopt an execution protocol and that victims have the right to seek court action to force compliance.
The suit (Winchell & Alexander v. Beard) was filed last November by the CJLF on behalf of Kermit Alexander, whose mother, sister and two nephews were murdered in 1984, and Bradley Winchell, whose sister was raped and murdered in 1981. They argue that as relatives of the victims they have been denied justice by the continued delays. Both murderers, Tiequon Cox and Michael Morales, have exhausted all appeals and, along with over a dozen other murderers on death row, would have already been executed or would be facing execution soon if CDCR chose to comply with state law and a 2006 federal district court ruling.
California's existing three-drug execution protocol has been blocked by a federal lawsuit for the past nine years, although a 2006 federal district court ruling in Morales v. Hickman held that CDCR could resume executions if it adopted a barbituate-only protocol. A second decision by the California Court of Appeal requires that protocols be established through California's cumbersome Administrative Procedure Act.
The victims' suit asks the judge to order CDCR to adopt a protocol that is consistent with the limits imposed by those other decisions.
In 2007, the CDCR announced that it would continue with the three-drug protocol, essentially agreeing to continue a moratorium on executions. In April of 2012, Governor Jerry Brown, who oversees the CDCR, directed the agency to develop alternatives, including investigating a single-drug protocol. Yet, over the past two and one-half years the agency has made no visible effort to comply.
Several states have adopted the court-approved one-drug protocol including Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, and Washington. Texas alone has executed 38 murderers with a single-drug protocol since 2012. Media witnesses have reported no apparent difficulties in the Texas executions.
"This initial ruling is important for two reasons," said Foundation Legal Director Kent Scheidegger. "First, the court has recognized that crime victims do have standing in court to require that the law be enforced. Second the court held that CDCR does not have the ‘unfettered discretion' that they claimed to drag their feet indefinitely."
CDCR is represented by California Attorney General Kamala Harris. "The Attorney General is more than just a lawyer representing a client," said Scheidegger. "She is the chief law enforcement officer of the state. I am particularly disappointed that she would argue that victims of crime have no standing. California crime victims deserve better."
CJLF Legal Director Kent Scheidegger is available for further comment at (916) 446-0345.
The ruling is available at:
The ruling is available at: