California put a halt to lethal injections roughly five years ago after a federal judge ruled that the state is not doing enough to ensure that the state’s procedures in executions do not amount to cruelty. Criminal defense attorneys know that constitutional guarantees, like the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment in a criminal case, are not just mere technicalities. Constitutional protections are the very foundation of our nation.

California revised its protocol after the federal judge ruled that the state’s old method of performing executions could allow the person being executed to endure excruciating pain. The judge also found that the facilities and training for staff involved in executions were deficient.

A man condemned to death after being convicted of a 1985 California murder of a pizza deliveryman has placed the state’s new death penalty protocol before a Marin County Superior Court judge, who has ruled that the revised protocol cannot be used in death row cases.

While devising the new protocol over the last six years, the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation rejected a single drug protocol that many other states across the country have turned to in death penalty cases. California retained a three-drug protocol when revising the death penalty system.

The first drug involves a barbiturate that is intended to knock out the death penalty inmate. A second drug, a paralytic, is then injected. The state then injects a lethal dose of potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

The judge in the recent death penalty case ruled that California failed to explain why it retained the three-drug system in its revised protocol. The issue arises in the use of the paralytic. As that drug is injected, the inmate can no longer move, but may remain conscious. As the third drug works to seize the inmate’s heart, a conscious inmate would experience the excruciating pain. That was the issue the federal judge found five years ago, and the reason many other states have chosen a single drug protocol in death penalty cases.

For now, California’s death penalty appears to remain on hold, unless the recent ruling is overturned on appeal.

Source: 89.3 KPCC, “California judge throws out state’s lethal injection procedure,” Julie Small, Dec. 16, 2011