The death penalty remains uncertain in California, with legal challenges facing lethal drug use and a voter-approved proposition to speed up executions.
California may be close to resuming executions in 2018, though others say there are “too many variables and challenges remaining to make a prediction,” reported Don Thompson of the Associated Press, in an interview with Robert Weisberg, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.
California’s Death Row inmates are symbolic of capital punishment gone wrong. Recent revisions to the state’s proposed regulations still don’t cure underlying problems that can lead to a botched execution, said Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham University School of Law, an expert on lethal injections.
Prodded by voter opposition and lawsuits, “The nation’s most populous state may now be easing back toward allowing executions, though observers are spilt on how quickly they will resume, if at all,” The Associated Press reported.
Weisberg noted that California’s proposed lethal injection regulations are patterned after a single-drug process already approved by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Referring to lethal injections, Denno told the AP, “It’s a complicated process, and everything has to be going right, and it’s so easy in a prison context for everything not to go right.”
She noted that deadly drugs must be properly measured, mixed and administered to ensure a painless death.” Denno equates the current process to “letting amateurs provide anesthesia for surgery,” Thompson reported.
According to the AP, “The proposed rules now give executioners 10 minutes to administer each round of lethal drugs. The first batch is supposed to kill, but if that initial dose doesn’t work, executioners would administer four more similar doses,each with a 10-minute countdown clock to make sure the process doesn’t drag on for hours, as critics said was a possibility under the original rules.”
“If the inmate is still alive after the five massive doses, the San Quentin warden shall stop the execution and summons the medical staff to assist,” the regulations read.
In spite of all these new regulatory changes, execution officials’ choices of drugs are limited to four powerful barbiturates:amobarbital, pentobarbital, secobarbital or thiopental. Officials in other states have experienced prolonged executions, “Their efforts to carry out the death penalty have been thwarted by a lack of lethal drugs,” the AP noted.
Midazolam will not be used in California. According to the Berkeley Law Death Penalty Clinic, an opponent to capital punishment, amobarbital and secobarbital have never been used in executions.
Proposition 66 currently is blocked by the California’s Supreme Court, but Weisberg pointed out that even if it is completely rejected, that would not derail the executions of inmates whose appeals are exhausted. The proposition is aimed at speeding up executions.
Those executions could proceed once the state has an approved lethal injection process. However, “inmates could also choose to die in the gas chamber,” the AP noted.
California’s Supreme Court will decide whether to speed up executions by reducing the time allowed for appeals.
U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel, who halted executions in California in 2006,ordered prison officials to improve the lethal injection process.