California Officials Reach Settlement On Path To Resuming Executions


Reuters Contributor
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By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Authorities in California, where the death penalty has been on hold since 2006, have reached a court settlement that would require the state to create lethal injection rules that could allow it to resume executions, officials said on Tuesday.

Attorneys for the most populous U.S. state submitted the settlement to a Sacramento court on Monday in a lawsuit brought by family members of murder victims who say the state’s failure to provide a viable execution method denies them justice.

The agreement comes ahead of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling expected this month in a case brought by Oklahoma death row inmates challenging that state’s executions by lethal injection as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The outcome of that case, in which their lawyers argue the sedative midazolam cannot achieve the level of unconsciousness required for surgery, could determine whether certain drugs in lethal injection are constitutional.

California prison officials, represented by the office of Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris, pledged under their settlement to release proposed regulations for a resumption of lethal injection within 120 days of the Supreme Court decision.

The state has 749 inmates on death row and has not carried out an execution since 2006 when a federal judge found problems with its three-drug cocktail for lethal injection. Officials tried to fix those deficiencies, but a state judge in 2011 deemed the process a failure.

Under the latest settlement, prison officials plan to propose a single-drug protocol for executions, said Deborah Hoffman, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Last year, another federal judge, in a ruling that applied to only one inmate plaintiff, found California’s system for imposing and carrying out the death penalty was so long and drawn-out it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

The California settlement follows moves by other states to end the death penalty, with Nebraska this year becoming the 19th state to do so, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Ana Zamora, a policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, which has fought the death penalty, said California’s death penalty system was broken.

“Any effort to change the execution procedures is doomed to fail and guaranteed to bring more legal challenges, more delays and cost more money,” Zamora said.

In 2012, a California ballot measure to abolish the death penalty lost narrowly.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)