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U.S. Judge: California Executions Unconstitutional

In California, a federal judge rules that lethal injection, as it is currently carried out in the state, violates the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against 'cruel and unusual punishment." District Court Judge Jeremey Fogel

The judge issued his decision after extensive hearings ont California's lethal injection procedure and a visit to the execution chamber at San Quentin prison. He concluded that California's method of executing inmates is broken.

Fogel was considering a very narrow question: whether the first of three drugs used in an execution, a drug meant to knock out the inmate, is effective. Administered properly, the judge wrote, the procedure should be painless. But he found many deficiencies, including an unreliable execution team.


One team leader was disciplined for smuggling illegal drugs. Fogel said the team members aren't properly trained in administering the drugs. He wrote that it is impossible to determine with any certainty whether inmates may have been conscious when painful life-stopping drugs are administered.

The case was brought by death-row inmate Michael Morales, who argued that lethal injection can be a form of cruel and unusual punishment. Doctors testified on his behalf that witnesses in several recent executions have observed body movements that shouldn't occur if lethal injection is properly administered.

Judge Fogel said the method could be fixed. He told the state it has to make sweeping changes. He asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state prison officials to present a plan that would add enough safeguards for executions to resume.

Gov. Schwarzenegger issued a statement saying that he would review the protocol, and would continue to defend the death penalty.

Judy Campbell of member station KQED in San Francisco reports.


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