That could be changing though. State officials have settled a lawsuit brought by family members of crime victims that requires Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration to devise a new lethal injection procedure.
The state will have to present its plan within 120 days of a U.S. Supreme Court decision on Oklahoma’s three-drug execution method. That decision – which is expected this month – will determine whether one of the drugs violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Executions were halted in California in 2006 when a federal judge ruled that drugs in the state’s lethal injection cocktail could cause excessive suffering. Gov. Brown vowed three years ago to fix the system. But critics accuse the governor of dragging his feet. Brown’s people say they’ve been stymied by difficulty in obtaining lethal drugs. Under pressure from death penalty opponents, manufacturers have been refusing to sell those drugs for use in executions.
Despite yesterday’s breakthrough, executions are not expected to resume in California in the near future. Any new effort to put an inmate to death would almost assuredly be met with new lawsuits from opponents of capital punishment. Those cases could be based on a ruling last year by a judge who said California death penalty was unconstitutional because long delays leave inmates uncertain about when and if the punishment will ever be carried out.
California has nearly 750 inmates on death row, more than any other state.