Regulators reject new death penalty procedures

By: PAUL ELIAS Associated Press Writer
San Jose Mercury News
Wednesday, June 9, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO—California regulators have rejected proposed new death penalty procedures, further delaying the resumption of executions stalled by court order since 2006.

The Office of Administrative Law on Tuesday rejected the proposed regulations drafted by prison officials, who have until Oct. 6 to submit revisions.

The court cases challenging California's capital punishment law will remain on hold until the proposed regulations are approved.

The office identified several passages that conflicted with state law, were unclear or failed to properly state reasons for the new procedures.

A federal judge halted executions in California in 2006 and ordered the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to improve the lethal injection process to eliminate chances inmates would suffer cruel and unusual punishment during executions.

In response, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation constructed a new death chamber at San Quentin Prison, revamped its training process and crafted proposed regulations.

The duty of the Office of Administrative Law is to ensure that state agencies follow proper procedures in drafting proposed regulations. Its approval of the lethal injections protocol was seen as a mere formality.

But on Tuesday, the obscure state agency sent prison officials a blistering 21-page "decision of disapproval of regulatory action."

Among its many objections, the office said the proposed regulations conflict with state law by explicitly authorizing media witnesses to the executions. Reporters have attended all 13 executions since their resumption in the state after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling 1976.

There are 702 inmates with a death sentence living in California prisons

Office of Administrative Law Deputy Director Linda Brown said the state law spelling out who may witness an execution doesn't include reporters, but the proposed regulations do. She said either the regulations have to be redrafted to eliminate explicit mention of the media or the Legislature needs to change the language of the law to specifically authorize the attendance of reporters.

She said the same goes for representatives of the governor's office and the inspector general, whom the proposed regulations allow as witnesses but who are not specifically authorized to attend by the law.

Brown speculated that reporters and the others have been allowed to attend as the "at least 12 reputable citizens" the San Quentin warden must select to witness each execution.

Brown said the office found five passages to be unclear, including how the death warrant is to be presented to the inmate scheduled for execution.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is challenging California's death penalty in federal court, called on Schwarzenegger to abolish the death sentence.

"We believe the flaws are too fundamental and at some point we have to stop," said the ACLU's Natasha Minsker. "This really demonstrates that the CDCR has not really taken the process seriously."