The 1st District Court of Appeal refused to overturn a Marin County judge’s ruling resulting in additional delays of executions at San Quentin State Prison.
The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation completed construction on a new execution chamber at San Quentin, prompting a Marin County court to find that the governor and prison officials failed to open up public hearings to California’s changes in the methods used to administer the death penalty, in violation of state procedures.
The current execution procedure is part of a lawsuit filed by condemned inmates, who maintain that the method is inhumane under the U.S. Constitution that forbids cruel and unusual punishment. The case was ruled on by U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel in 2006, when he described the state’s execution method as “broken.” In the ruling Judge Fogel made recommendations to the state to improve the execution standard while addressing the concerns of the humane termination of condemned prisoners. The state in response implemented a plan to improve training and supervision of execution officers and the construction of a new execution chamber. The construction project, which critics say was completed in secret, is the catalyst for the Marin County judge’s ruling.
Earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court heard a similar case from Kentucky in which the constitutionality of lethal injections was challenged. The Supreme Court’s ruling upheld lethal injection as a “legal method of execution.” The ruling will no doubt have an impact on the California law-suit, according to legal professionals.
The state has the right to appeal the recent ruling, further exacerbating the delays in a solution to the execution concerns. In addition, the state will likely have to open the execution methods up to public scrutiny, taking months if not years to complete, say attorneys for death row inmates. The result of all of the legal wrangling will further delay executions in California where more than 670 prisoners wait for an outcome. The already three-year delay has kept some men alive who have exhausted all their options in the appeals process.
Opponents of the death penalty see this as opportunity for Californians to reevaluate capital punishment, which was reinstated in the state in 1976.
The death penalty has been abolished in all western countries except the U.S.
Critics of capital punishment assert that in the U.S. at least 400 innocent people have been convicted of capital crimes they did not commit, of which 23 have been executed. As fatal errors escalate, many voters reconsider capital punishment.
In the U.S. there is declining public acceptance of capital punishment as a viable deterrent to crime, say critics. This opposition is amid pressure by the European Union, whose members have expressed deep concerns about the increasing number of executions in the United States. All the more since the great majority of executions since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976 have been carried out in the 1990s. Furthermore, in the U.S. offenders who are under 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the crime may be sentenced to death and executed.