Ensuring California's death penalty system remains in limbo for the foreseeable future, a state appeals court on Thursday scrapped the state's latest attempt to update its lethal injection procedures at San Quentin State Prison.
In a 28-page ruling, the 1st District Court of Appeal invalidated California's lethal injection procedures, finding that state prison officials failed to comply with proper administrative rules when crafting new regulations two years ago. The decision sends California back to the drawing board, unless the Brown administration appeals the decision to the California Supreme Court.
The appeals court upheld Marin County Judge Faye D'Opal, who likewise found the prison department failed to comply with the state's administrative procedures act for a variety of reasons, including providing no public explanation for why San Quentin officials opted to continue with a three-drug lethal injection method as opposed to a single-drug execution option being embraced by a number of other states.
State officials have indicated in court papers they are exploring the single-drug option, which involves putting condemned inmates to death with a single fatal dose of a sedative. Ohio, Washington and Arizona are among the states that have moved to that option to shortcircuit legal challenges to the three-drug lethal injection method.
The appeals court decision is the latest setback for death penalty supporters in California, where there has been a moratorium on executions since 2006 as a result of legal challenges to the state's lethal injection procedures in both the state and federal courts. There are now more than 725 inmates awaiting execution on death row, including more than a dozen who have exhausted their legal appeals and would be eligible to be executed immediately if the state resumed executions.
In response to a federal judge's concerns, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and current Gov. Jerry Brown have both attempted to overhaul the state's lethal injection procedures, revising training for execution team members and constructing a new lethal injection facility at San Quentin. But the state's effort to update its execution method has now been blocked twice for violating the administrative code, for the most part by failing to offer adequate public review of the proposed changes.
Justice J. Anthony Kline, writing for the appeals court, found the state once again violated the administrative rules in 2010, rejecting the state's argument that more than 20,000 comments were submitted and public hearings were held to consider the new lethal injection procedures. The appeals court concluded that the public did not receive all the necessary information, particularly surrounding the prison system's decision to stick to the three-drug method, which has been challenged because of concerns it can result in a cruel and painful death.
"The public that participated in the (prison system's) rule making process was not so fully informed," the appeals court wrote.
State prison officials could not immediately be reached for comment.