Capitol Alert

California rejects proposed new death penalty rules

Efforts to revive the death penalty in California were dealt another blow late last month when a state agency tasked with reviewing regulatory changes rejected a proposed new lethal injection protocol.

The decision by the Office of Administrative Law came one day after the California Supreme Court blocked implementation of Proposition 66, an initiative passed by voters in November to expedite capital punishment, pending the outcome of a lawsuit.

In a 25-page decision of disapproval released on Dec. 28, the OAL cited inconsistencies and ambiguities in the protocol, insufficient justification for some regulations and a need for further response to public comments.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has four months to resubmit its proposal. Spokeswoman Terry Thornton said the department plans to fix the issues identified by the OAL.

Executions were halted in 2006 because of legal challenges alleging that California’s lethal injection method violated the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The corrections department began developing a new protocol last year that replaced its old three-drug cocktail with a 7.5-gram, single-drug dose of one of four barbiturates: amobarbital, pentobarbital, secobarbital or thiopental.

Among the questions raised by the OAL was why inmates would be injected with 7.5 grams of a barbiturate when corrections officials acknowledged 5 grams is a sufficiently lethal dose. It also asked for additional explanations on a $50 limit for inmates’ last meals and why inmates would be offered the option of taking a sedative before the execution begins.

The majority of the decision focused on ambiguities in the protocol that the OAL said needed to be clarified. These included the timeline for steps taken in the days and hours leading up to an execution, how to proceed if an inmate does not immediately die, what sedative options are available and who must administer them, what proposed monthly “security and operational inspections” of the execution chamber would entail, and under what conditions a warden should raise inquiry into an inmate’s sanity.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff