• Court Rules California’s New Lethal Injection Procedures are Invalid Superior Court Judge Lynn O’Malley Taylor held that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation failed to follow proper procedure for instituting new regulations when it issued new lethal injection protocols in May. Under state law, an agency that adopts new regulations must first publish the text, invite public comments, hold a hearing if a member of the public requests one, and submit the final draft to the Office of Administrative Law, which decides whether the proposed rule was legally authorized. Though the Corrections Department maintains that the protocols are not regulations because they apply to a small number of inmates, Taylor disagreed, stating “The undisputed evidence establishes that (the execution protocol) is a rule or regulation of general application.” Taylor, a retired judge sitting by special assignment in the court, also said the protocol “implements a statewide policy on lethal injections for condemned inmates,” prescribes duties for state officials outside San Quentin and applies to prisoners at other institutions. Taylor’s ruling states that the new procedures cannot be implemented until they go through the regulatory process. This marks the latest chapter in a series of lethal injection challenges impacting executions in the state. No one has been executed in California since January 2006. In February 2006, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel blocked the execution of Michael Morales. Fogel found there was a chance that a sedation drug would not work during the execution, leaving Morales conscious, paralyzed and in agony while dying. After hearing testimony from medical experts and execution witnesses, Fogel later issued another ruling saying he would find that California’s lethal injections violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment unless the state overhauled the execution process. Early next year, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider a similar case out of Kentucky.
    (San Francisco Chronicle, October 31, 2007)
  • California Blue Ribbon Commission Recommends Recording of Interrogations The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice has unanimously recommended that state lawmakers require electronic recording of all jailhouse interrogations. The commission added that the law should include a provision stating that if an officer fails to record an interrogation, jurors would be instructed to view the defendant’s statement with caution. Emphasizing that false confessions have been identified as the second most frequent cause of wrongful convictions, the commission’s report also suggested that the legislature provide funding to police departments to implement a policy of videotaping interrogations in felony cases. “Although it may seem surprising that factually innocent persons would falsely confess to the commission of serious crimes, the research provides ample evidence that this phenomenon occurs with greater frequency than widely assumed,” the commission stated. In their report, members of the commission noted that taped interrogations could help prevent wrongful convictions and could provide considerable benefits to law enforcement, including protection against claims of misconduct. During a June 2006 hearing, two wrongfully convicted men, Christopher Ochoa of Texas and Harold Hall of California, testified before the panel and explained that a recording of their false confessions could have prevented them from going to prison for crimes they did not commit. Both men stated that the recordings would have allowed the judge and jurors in their cases to see the coercive techniques used against them during their interrogations. The 18-member California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice is a blue ribbon panel headed by former California Attorney General John K. Van de Kamp. Among the commission’s members are California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, three district attorneys, a federal judge, and a Los Angeles County public defender. (Los Angeles Times, July 26, 2006). See prior recommendations; see Innocence.
  • California Moratorium Bill Gains Broad Support From Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges A group of 40 law enforcement officers, current and former prosecutors, and judges at the state and federal level have urged California lawmakers to enact a temporary halt to executions in the state while a commission examines the accuracy and fairness of the death penalty. In a letter to members of the California Assembly, the bi-partisan group of death penalty supporters and opponents wrote, “[G]iven that DNA testing and other new evidence has proven that more than 121 people who sat on death rows around the country were actually innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted, we agree that a temporary suspension of executions in California is necessary while we ensure, as much as possible, that the administration of criminal justice in this state is just, fair, and accurate.” The legislation, Assembly Bill 1121, calls for a moratorium on executions until January 1, 2009, two years after the newly-established California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice is set to submit its findings to the legislature and Governor. The letter noted, “We believe that it is not only pragmatic, but prudent to halt executions until these recommendations can be fully considered and, if necessary, acted upon.” (Letter to the California Assembly in Support of AB 1121, January 9, 2006).
  • California Prosecutors Urge Death Penalty Moratorium As California lawmakers consider legislation that would put executions on hold for two years while a 13-member commission reviews the problem of wrongful convictions in the state, a group of current and former prosecutors have sent members of the state Assembly a letter urging passage of the measure. “The execution of an innocent person is unacceptable, and it is imperative that California takes every precaution that it never happens. This is not just a matter of justice for these individuals. It is a matter of public safety…. If an innocent person is convicted, that means that the true perpetrator may well still be free to commit more crimes,” the prosecutors wrote. Among the prosectors signing the letter were Donald Heller, who authored the state’s 1978 death penalty statute, and Ira Reiner, whose office sent dozens of people to death row when he was Los Angeles County’s district attorney from 1984 to 1992. Imperial County deputy district attorney John Willis, San Francisco County sheriff Michael Hennessy, and former California Supreme Court Justice Joseph Grodin also signed the letter. Heller noted that the California death penalty law “was written to provide a fair method.” He added, “In practice it has not worked out that way. … There are too many variables law can’t control.” Among Heller’s chief concerns is the quality of representation a capital defendant receives. Reiner stated, “I don’t see any appropriate argument against a brief moratorium on executions while the death penalty process in California is examined very carefully by serious people. If the state is going to have the moral authority to take a life, it has to be done when there are no questions about the fairness of the trial.” California’s Assembly is currently considering the moratorium legislation supported by the prosecutors. Last year, the state’s lawmakers passed legislation to create the 13-member California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, a group that includes both supporters and opponents of capital punishment. (Los Angeles Times, January 10, 2006) See New Voices, Innocence and Recent Legislative Activity.
  • The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution urging lawmakers to halt executions in California until its fairness and the risk of executing innocent people are studied. By a 4-1 vote, the Board passed the resolution that calls upon the Governor to impose a moratorium “unless and until discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin or economic status is eliminated.” Santa Clara is the second California county to pass a formal resolution calling for a moratorium on executions. The city and county of San Francisco passed a similar resolution, as have the cities of Oakland, Berkeley and Santa Cruz. (Associated Press, 10/31/01 and Californians for a Moratorium on Executions, Press Release, 10/30/01). For a list of groups that have passed moratorium resolutions, see http://www.quixote.org/ej/.