The state has proposed a new plan for single-drug executions in California; this would give prison officials the ability to choose among four lethal chemicals. Among these four chemicals, two of them are no longer available from manufacturers, and the other two have never been used to perform executions.
Megan McCracken, an attorney with the Death Penalty Clinic at UC Berkeley Law School, says that the proposal by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation“is not based on sound research and amounts to experimentation. Lawyers from the clinic and the American Civil Liberties Union say that the department has failed to respond to key questions as to where the drugs would be coming from or how they would be tested. The department says that the drugs would be produced by its own pharmacies if necessary. The Criminal Justice Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of families of murder victims and the state settled that suit in June by agreeing to switch from three-drug executions to a lethal dose of a single sedative, the method used by many states.
The change to a single drug plan is an attempt to satisfy the concerns raised by a federal judge who stopped executions at San Quentin State Prison in 2006 after finding flaws in injection methods and staff training, which raised an unacceptable risk of a botched and agonizing execution.
The public has submitted thousands of written comments on the new proposal. There was a public hearing that was just held in Sacramento. After a month of written comments, prison officials will have until November to respond to the public and submit a final proposal to a state legal office for review.
Depending on how the November elections turn out, the plan's future may be determined at the ballot box before it has a chance to take effect. There is an initiative being circulated for the November election that would repeal the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without parole. In the meantime, execution drugs are scarce throughout the nation, and opponents of the California proposal are questioning the availability and reliability of the four proposed lethal sedatives.
It has not been disclosed how state prison officials will choose a pharmacy, what guidelines the pharmacy will use, and what testing will be done.
There is no place for state sponsored executions in a humane and civilized society. Death penalty opponents are optimistic that the ballot initiative banning the death penalty will be successful n November.