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February 9, 2011

Will California ever get to use its fancy new death chamber?

59291481 The question in the title of this post is inspired by this new article in the Los Angeles Times, which is headlined "Judge tours California's rebuilt death chamber; U.S. judge is reviewing the state's revised lethal injection procedures and facilities, five years in the making, to determine whether executions can resume. But other legal challenges could get in the way." Here are excerpts:

New legal challenges threaten to further delay California's effort to resume executions despite five years of costly reforms and reconstruction to meet a federal judge's concerns that previous procedures might have inflicted cruel and unusual punishment.

U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel on Tuesday toured San Quentin State Prison's new $900,000 execution facility, questioning state corrections authorities about the death penalty machinery and methods revised to address the concerns that led him to halt executions in 2006.

But Fogel's earlier worries about poorly trained executioners and cramped, ill-lighted conditions in the converted gas chamber where lethal injections took place may now be overshadowed by developments in other cases.

The sole U.S. supplier of sodium thiopental — the only anesthetic allowed under the California lethal injection protocols that Fogel is evaluating — has ceased making the drug. Attorneys for six death row inmates from California, Arizona and Tennessee have sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for failing to inspect and approve foreign-made versions of the drug when supplies were imported by the three states. While the outcome of that lawsuit remains uncertain, it has the potential to raise fresh legal questions that could further delay any restart of executions in California.

Asked after the formal fact-finding tour whether the suit against the FDA would factor into his decision, Fogel said, "It's not before me" in the case involving the execution of killer Michael A. Morales that was suspended in February 2006. "The source of the state's sodium thiopental is something the California Supreme Court is going to be asked to weigh in on, but it is not an issue in the Morales case at this point," Fogel said.

If the federal court in Washington, D.C., grants the prisoners' request for an injunction against importing sodium thiopental and orders the FDA to seize shipments that entered the country without its approval — as is the case with California's stock — the state could be forced back into the lengthy process of rewriting the execution laws. Other states' execution protocols aren't as specific as California's and they have been able to substitute another anesthetic for the scarce sodium thiopental....

California has 718 prisoners on death row, but only seven have exhausted all appeals. On Tuesday, Fogel, leading an entourage of lawyers and experts involved in the case, went room to room in the clinic-like facility, inspecting the hand-lettered drug vials arrayed on two trays in the infusion room, where the execution drugs are to be mixed and delivered via intravenous tubes threaded through the wall of the adjacent death chamber.

Fogel said he hoped to make a decision about whether executions can proceed "as soon as possible" but set out a schedule for further hearings that will run at least through spring.

February 9, 2011 at 09:34 AM | Permalink

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The 9th Circuit upheld Arizona's lethal injection protocol today. Hopefully, California's won't be drawn out for years by them with a panel and en banc hearing as they like to do with most capital cases.

Posted by: DaveP | Feb 9, 2011 3:37:12 PM

LOL guess this might teach them to write laws that are simple clear and consise...siimple enough even a politician can understand them.....

Perfect example of a death penalty law!

"If convicted and sentenced to death you have the right to the execution style of your choice as long as it is quick and easy and of low cost to the state. You must choice within 30 days of your sentence. Failure to pick a method will result in execution via bullet to the back of the head as the end of the 31st day!"

Posted by: rodsmith | Feb 9, 2011 5:54:06 PM

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