LETHAL INJECTION: California Abandons Defense of Its Execution Procedures

On June 10, California announced it would no longer try to defend its current lethal injection protocol.  In May, a court ruling invalidated the state’s three-drug lethal injection protocol because state officials failed to follow administrative rules in adopting the protocol. Governor Jerry Brown and other officials will instead proceed with developing a single-drug lethal injection protocol similar to those adopted recently in states like Ohio, Arizona, and Washington. California has the largest death row in the United States with more than 725 inmates. The state has not carried out an execution since 2006 because of legal problems with its three-drug lethal injection protocol. Executions are unlikely to resume immediately since it could take a year or longer to approve the new single-drug protocol. Even if the single-drug method is approved, the state could face the additional challenge of securing supplies of the drugs because manufacturers object to their use in lethal injections.

NEW VOICES: Arkansas Attorney General Says State Death Penalty "Completely Broken"

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel recently said the state’s death penalty system was “completely broken” and recommended it be abolished if the state's execution method isn't changed. McDaniel said, “It’s time for the policy makers of Arkansas to say, ‘Do we continue with a broken system and throwing money and resources at essentially pointless litigation, or do we modify the system?’ And there’s only really two modifications that I see available — it’s either abolish the death penalty or change the method of execution.” He added, “Frankly, I don’t think we are telling jurors the truth when we lead them to believe that they are sentencing someone to death when we really don’t have a viable system with which to execute someone.” In speaking to the Sheriffs Associaton, he criticized the state’s lethal injection protocol because there are no execution drugs available and because of the difficulty in getting physicians to participate in executions. Arkansas currently has 38 inmates on death row. The state's last execution was in 2005.

EXECUTIONS: As of Mid-Year 2013, Pace of Executions Continues to Decline

In the first half of 2013, six states carried out 18 executions. In the same period last year, there were 23 executions in 8 states. The annual number of executions has declined significantly from its peak in 1999, when 98 people were put to death. There were 43 executions in 2011 and 2012. Sixteen of this year's executions (89%) have been in the South, with nearly half in Texas (8). Eight of the defendants executed so far this year were black, and ten were white. Seventy-three percent (73%) of the victims in cases resulting in executions this year were white, even though generally whites are victims of murder in less than 50% of the cases. All of the executions in 2013 but one have been by lethal injection. (Robert Gleason chose to be executed by electrocution in Virginia in January.) All of the lethal injections were carried out using pentobarbital, either in a single or multiple-drug protocol.

NEW VOICES: Texas Paper Changes Its Death Penalty Position

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram announced a change in its stance on the death penalty in a recent editorial marking the 500th execution in Texas. While the newspaper had previously endorsed a moratorium on executions, it now supports the abolition of capital punishment. The editors said that moral grounds alone are enough to warrant ending the death penalty, but they also cited a variety of problems in Texas's use of the death penalty, including geographical and racial disparities in sentencing, and the state's "embarassing record of wrongful conviction." The paper pointed to the decline in death sentences and executions as evidence that the death penalty is no longer necessary, concluding, "Abolishing capital punishment would neither demean the memory of victims nor deny any of them justice. Instead, it would make our society as a whole more just, more morally consistent, and certainly more humane." Read the full editorial below.

LETHAL INJECTION: Federal Judge Requires Louisiana Officials to Reveal Details of Lethal Injection Protocol

On June 4, a federal magistrate ruled that the Louisiana Department of Safety and Corrections must reveal the details of the state's lethal injection protocol. The ruling rejected the argument that disclosing the protocol would raise “serious security concerns.” The ruling by Judge Stephen Riedlinger was on a motion related to the lawsuit filed by death row inmates Jessie Hoffman and Christopher Sepulvado, who contended that due process requires they be fully informed about the state’s execution process. Michael Rubenstein, defense attorney for Hoffman and Sepulvado, noted that, “Not only are lethal injection protocols widely available in other states, the courts have rejected the very argument that the Defendants seek to advance.” Texas and Mississippi, for example, have publicly disclosed their lethal injection protocols. In Texas, the protocol includes specific location of the inmate, the timing of the inmate’s transport to the location of the execution, and other information. The Department of Safety and Corrections now has 14 days to provide Hoffman and Sepulvado’s defense attorneys with the lethal injection protocol.

LETHAL INJECTION: Latest Court Ruling Continues Suspension of Executions in California

On May 30, California’s First District Court of Appeals upheld a Superior Court ruling that found the state’s lethal injection protocol invalid because the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation failed to comply with the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act. A spokesman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said that no decision has been made on whether the ruling will be appealed to the California Supreme Court or if the department will propose a new lethal injection method. California has not had an execution since 2006, partly because questions related to the method of execution and the overall fairness of the system. It has the largest death row in the country, with more than 700 inmates facing execution. The costs of the death penalty are also likely to play a prominent role in its future in the state. Natasha Minsker, who led efforts to repeal California’s death penalty in 2012, said, “Any effort to resume executions will cost hundreds of thousands of public dollars and take years, with an extremely limited chance of success.”

LETHAL INJECTION: British Manufacturer Stops Drug Supply to Arkansas for Executions

The British manufacturer Hikma Pharmaceuticals recently announced new rules to restrict the supply of its products for unintended uses, such as carrying out executions in the United States. Earlier this year, Reprieve, a legal advocacy organization based in London, found that a U.S. subsidiary of Hikma sold 100 grams of phenobarbital to the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Arkansas decided to use the new, untested drug in their lethal injection process when they were unable to secure supplies of the drugs they normally use. A spokesman for Hikma Pharmaceuticals said the order had been made as part of the regular request for drugs for prison hospital services and did not raise any red flags because the drug had never been used in executions before. Arkansas has been contacted by the drug company and told that the subsidiary was closing the account. The state's current supply of phenobarbital is sufficient to carry out eight executions and will expire in October 2015. The state will need to seek alternative sources or different drugs when their current supply becomes unavailable. Other drug companies have put similar restrictions on the use of their drugs in executions.

LETHAL INJECTION: Arkansas Plans to Use Untested Drug in Executions

The Arkansas Department of Corrections recently announced it will use a new drug, phenobarbital, for lethal injections. Phenobarbital is used to treat seizures but has never been used for executions in the U.S. Some experts are concerned that using drugs that are untested for this purpose could result in inhumane treatment. David Lubarsky, who chairs the anesthesiology department at the University of Miami's medical school, said, “People should not be using inmates as an experiment. And that is basically what this is. It's basically experimenting." Up until a few years ago, all states carrying out lethal injections used sodium thiopental as the first of three drugs in their protocol. States were forced to seek alternative drugs when the manufacturer stopped making sodium thiopental in response to objections about its use in executions. Oklahoma was the first state to employ pentobarbital, a sedative commonly used by veterinarians to euthanize animals, but that drug is now in short supply for executions. Last year, Missouri announced plans to use propofol for lethal injections, though the manufacturer of that drug has also restricted its sale. Arkansas also plans to use the drug lorazepam prior to the execution as a sedative. However, Jon Groner, a surgery professor at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, said lorazepam makes some people excitable, instead of relaxed.