The state corrections department and families of murder victims have reached an agreement, announced Tuesday, that would tie California's execution procedure to a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The settlement filed in Sacramento County Superior Court late Monday resolves a lawsuit that was filed by crime victims to force the state to more quickly adopt a new process for executing condemned inmates.
Gov. Jerry Brown said in 2012 that California would switch to a single-drug lethal injection, but procedures have yet to be proposed three years later. The department has said its drafting of the new regulations has been slowed by a nationwide shortage of execution drugs.
The settlement requires the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to begin adopting the new regulations within 120 days after the nation's high court rules this summer on a challenge to Oklahoma's death penalty procedure. A decision is expected in June in that case, which is the only lethal-injection case currently before the Supreme Court.
The justices heard oral arguments in April on whether Oklahoma's use of the drug midazolam is appropriate for executions. An attorney representing inmates told the justices that midazolam is ineffective in preventing searing pain from one of the other drugs used in Oklahoma's process.
"I didn't think there was any need to wait for it because it uses a drug I don't think California will ever use. But that's what they were willing to agree to," said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. The Sacramento-based foundation filed the court challenge on behalf of relatives of murder victims who said they are affected by the delays and is to be paid $10,000 for its legal expenses under the settlement.
"We didn't get everything we wanted, but I think we got the most important thing," he said. "We finally have a light at the end of the tunnel, and it can't be stalled forever."
California's policy currently calls for using a series of three drugs. But the victims' lawsuit cites a 2006 ruling by a federal judge who said California could resume executions if it began using a process that only uses barbiturates.
With no executions since 2006, California's death row is filling so fast that Brown included $3.2 million in this month's budget request to open 97 more cells for condemned inmates at San Quentin State Prison. There currently are 749 people on California's death row.