CALIFORNIA (USA). EXECUTIONS UNLIKELY THE REST OF THE YEAR
June 1, 2007: a judge will not hear legal challenges to the state's lethal injection procedure until October.
It became clear Friday that another execution in California this year is highly unlikely because of ongoing legal challenges to the state's lethal injection procedure.
U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel, who has been presiding over those challenges in San Jose federal court, scheduled hearings Oct. 1 and Oct. 2 on challenges to the procedure, filed by condemned inmate Michael Morales and Pacific News Service.
Fogel also said he would not issue rulings on those challenges until a companion lawsuit, which alleges that state officials violated the California Administrative Procedure Act when they devised the execution protocol, is resolved by a Superior Court judge in Marin County. It could take until the end of September for briefings in that case to be completed.
Fogel made it clear that he wanted to proceed expeditiously, but he also acknowledged that however he rules, he will not have the last word. The judge said he "wants to get this case out of the trial court as soon as possible and into the court of appeal," a reference to the fact that his decision undoubtedly will be appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and then probably to the U.S. Supreme Court.
There has been a court-ordered moratorium on executions in California since February 21, 2006 (see), when Morales' pending execution for the 1981 slaying of a teenager was halted by a federal court challenge to the state's lethal injection procedure.
California's procedure calls for a three-drug cocktail. The first drug, sodium thiopental, is a fast-acting barbiturate that is supposed to render the condemned inmate unconscious before the other two drugs â pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes the body, and potassium chloride, which causes cardiac arrest â are administered.
On December 15, 2006 (see), Fogel ruled that the way California applies its lethal injection procedure violates the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The threshold issue in the case, Fogel wrote, is whether the procedure, as administered, "provides constitutionally adequate assurance that condemned inmates will be unconscious when they are injected" with the second and third drugs. Evidence generated in the case filed by Morales' lawyers "is more than adequate to establish a constitutional violation," Fogel wrote in his 17-page decision.
On May 15, state officials submitted a new protocol to Fogel, saying the changes "will result in the dignified end of life" for condemned inmates.
The officials said they would stick to the 3-drug protocol but would adjust the doses and train prison staff to ensure that inmates are thoroughly unconscious before the final painful drugs are given.
Ginger Anders, one of Morales' attorneys, countered that the new protocol "does not meaningfully address the problems" listed in Fogel's December ruling. (Sources: Los Angeles Times, 02/06/2007)