In compliance with a court order agreed upon last June, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announced a new, single-drug execution protocol today. The state’s new lethal injection process allows for executions to be conducted using lethal gas or a fatal dose of any one of four drugs based primarily upon their availability. The condemned murderer may choose the method of execution, but if he declines to make the choice, lethal injection will be utilized. The four barbiturates approved for executions include two of which are currently used for executions in other states, Pentobarbital and Thiopental, along with Amobarbital and Secobarbital.
The CDCR announcement follows the settlement of a lawsuit, Winchell & Alexander v. Beard, filed last fall by the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation 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 argued that, as relatives of the victims, they have been denied justice by the state’s nine-year delay in developing an execution process that complied with state law and a 2006 Federal District Court ruling. California’s existing three-drug execution protocol has been blocked by a federal lawsuit, although the judge’s 2006 ruling in Morales v. Hickman provided that the CDCR could resume executions if it adopted a one-drug, barbiturate-only protocol. That ruling was later upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The CDCR had taken no visible action to comply with that holding since it was announced, choosing instead to continue fighting the lawsuit blocking the three-drug protocol.
"The announcement of a court-approved execution protocol after nine years of delay is a major victory for the majority of Californians who support the death penalty and particularly for families of murder victims who have been waiting for justice," said Foundation Legal Director Kent Scheidegger.
There are currently 18 murderers on California’s death row who have exhausted all of their appeals. However, the announcement of the new protocol will not result in the immediate resumption of executions. As the result of a 2007 Marin County Superior Court decision, later upheld by the First District Court of Appeal, the protocol must now go through a public comment process required under the state’s Administrative Procedures Act (APA), which was not considered a requirement prior to that decision. In addition, today’s announcement provides for a public comment period extending to January 22, a full month beyond the standard 45-day public comment period.
"Had the state appealed the 2007 decision to the Supreme Court eight years ago, it is quite possible there would be no APA requirement for this protocol. In addition, for the CDCR to add an additional month of delay to the approval of an execution method already upheld by the courts and currently in use by other states is difficult to justify," said Scheidegger.
CJLF Legal Director Kent Scheidegger is available for comment at (916) 446-0345.