Terminator: The Lethal Injection Protocols

Last week saw the publication of the latest revisions to the protocols for adminstration of lethal injections in California. In previous news,

  • The State of California has been observing a moratorium on executions since December 2006, when it was ruled that procedures contravened the 8th amendment of the US constitution.
  • In 2007 Governor Schwarzenegger’s administration was exposed for building of a $400,000 death chamber in secret, in spite of the extant moratorium.
  • Also in 2007, controversy over requests filed by the DA General that the revision of three-injection protocols be conducted in secret led to an outcry regarding secrecy around the whole process and an eventual ruling that the government submit the revised protocols to public scrutiny
  • Despite huge financial and budgeting difficulties faced by the State of California, which could be greatly alleviated by commuting all death penalties to life without parole, Governor Schwarzenegger has chosen to press ahead with the building of an extension to San Quentin’s Death Row at an estimated cost of $400million. If carried through, this could end up housing hundreds more condemned prisoners at an exponentially rising level of cost that surely cannot be sustainable by the State?

Here is the background to the request for emails from Death Penalty Focus (DPF):


On January 4, 2010, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) proposed minor revisions to its lethal injection procedures in the form of amendments to its previously proposed procedures. CDCR set a fifteen-day comment period ending January 20, 2010 at 5:00 p.m. during which the public can submit written comments on the proposed amendments.

The call for comments is open to all – not just Californians, and the form allows for non-US residents to participate as well. So I did. My point here is not to boast about my actions (although I have to admit taking action gives me a huge kick!). But it is to show my readers that we can – and should get involved EVERY TIME we have an opportunity to comment, question and disrupt the capital punishment system – anywhere in the world. You can cut and paste my comments into your own email, if you like and can’t be bothered to review the document and write your own. I’d rather people did that than nothing.

My email to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR)

(Note this was based on the DPF template and extended)

Lethal Injection: Proposed Amendments to Title 15, Article 7.5, Sections 3349

I am very concerned about the newly revised lethal injection procedures.

In particular, I have the following concerns:

* The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) added a news article from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat to the rulemaking file. The article mentions that the original creator of the three-drug lethal injection formula has suggested ways to reform the process, including keeping up with changing drugs and science and proper training of lethal injection team members. The recent experience of Romell Broom in Ohio reinforces a point raised in the article, that botched executions are a real possibility, especially in California, due to the limited training of the lethal injection team members and California’s repeated failure to meaningfully change its protocol.

* CDCR’s amended regulations continue to be wholly inadequate and inapplicable to female condemned inmates.  The regulations now specify that a female condemned inmate shall be transported to San Quentin no sooner than 72 hours and no later than six hours prior to the scheduled execution, but contain no provisions to implement the required 45-day chronology of events prior to her arrival at San Quentin.  CDCR also fails to address how and if the female condemned inmate will be in contact with her family members and her legal team during her transport, which may take place on the same day as her scheduled execution.

* Contrary to CDCR’s claim, the amended regulations continue to treat the condemned prisoner’s witnesses differently than the victim’s witnesses.  The victim’s family is allowed an unlimited number of witnesses at the execution, whereas the prisoner scheduled to die is limited to five individuals other than her or his spiritual adviser.  In the event of lack of space, the victim’s family is provided with the option of remote viewing of the execution, while the same option is not extended to the inmate’s family.

*The distinction drawn between Chaplains and “approved” Spiritual Advisors is confusing and it is unclear how and when a person may become a “pre-approved” Spiritual Advisor.

*Additionally this element should be re-worded to allow for a Spiritual Advisor to be a non-US national and clarified to include non-State (i.e. non-Californian) Spiritual Advisors.

* I should like to see consideration given to removal of contact restrictions for Grade B prisoners during the 5-day pre-execution period. Denial of such an allowance under supervision at this time constitutes cruel punishment, not only for the condemned inmate, but additionally for his close friends and family.

* The lethal injection system detailed in section 3349.4.5 continues to give cause for concern and doubt as to its minimisation of suffering for the inmate. The ability for supervising staff to iterate the procedure multiple times if any one stage is deemed to have failed CANNOT guarantee that death has occurred without pain. This is cruel and unusual punishment. Again the recent case of Rommell Broom in Ohio bears witness to the pain, trauma and suffering which may be endured.

* The 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution demands that no citizen be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. There is no indication within the proposed protocol revision which deals with the inmate’s psychological exposure prior to execution, and I would submit that in that respect the entire procedure constitutes little more than mental torture. The protocol requires revision to explain how this risk will be definitively mitigated.

* The above point is particularly true for atheist inmates for whom spiritual advice prior to execution holds no consequence or relief.

I expect that you will take these concerns very seriously.

Kathy Brown

My email to Governor Schwarzenegger

The second part of the form gives protesters a chance to address Governor Schwarzenegger directly (DPIC fax the contents to the Governor’s office. Who knows whether he reads this, or whether he just says ‘Fuck this bullshit, more bedding for my hamster’?). So anyway, here’s what I said. Note, again, the first 4-an-a-half paras belong to the DPIC template. The rest, we are free to improvise. I tend to feel I want to be reasonable and not rant. But I can imagine some people letting their frustrations fly at this point…

Honorable Governor Schwarzenegger,

I am very concerned about the cost, uneven and inaccurate application, and the moral implications of maintaining the death penalty in California.

As California politicians are working on resolving the budget crisis, consider that we could save $1 billion in five years by suspending the death penalty. Here’s how:

According to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, the death penalty currently costs the state $137 million per year, whereas the alternative sentence, permanent imprisonment, would cost only $11 million per year. We could save a minimum of $600 million over the next five years.

According to the State Auditor, the State will need to spend $400 million for construction of new housing facility for death row prisoners at San Quentin.

If you convert all current death sentences to sentences of life without possibility of parole, which you have the authority to do today, you will save the State $1 billion in five years. Additionally you will have the opportunity to meet voter expectations on additional funding for crime prevention, crime detection, drugs programs, education and health.

These times call for tough choices. Please make the right decision and save your state $1 billion today.

I would also add that as a European citizen, I believe the United States has an opportunity and a duty to set an example; to show that it has the courage to change and the compassion and intelligence to address the death penalty as incompatible with modern human rights. Only by leading in this area can the United States hope to effect change in other countries, particularly the retentionist nations of Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. Article 3 and Article 5 of The Universal Declaration on Human Rights stipulate that every human being has an equal right to life, and a life free from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It would be wonderful to see the legacy of  Governor Schwarzenegger as being one that embraces these fundamental rights for EVERY person resident in your State.

Finally, I would like to respectfully remind you of the most compelling reason why myself and billions of other people worldwide reject the death penalty as an acceptable form of punishment, namely the persistent risk of a miscarriage of justice. In spite of safeguards, there is no doubt that for as long as the death penalty is applied, there is the risk of an innocent person being wrongly executed.  I am sure you are aware that in 2009 the United States saw a large number of exonerations, 9 of which were innocent people saved from Death Row. For California to find itself henceforth having wrongly executed even one person is morally unacceptable. The only way you can guarantee this will never happen is for you to show the strength of your leadership not just as a State Governor, but on the world stage, and bring an end to Capital punishment in California.


Kathy Brown

So, will you have your say too?

January 10, 2010 - Posted by | california, challenges, death penalty, exoneration, justice, lethal injection, USA | , , , , , ,

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