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California News Media Demanding Accountability — Suing State for Public Information of Executions

California News Media Demanding Accountability — Suing State for Public Information of Executions

Lethal injection drug shortages resulting from conflicts between the pharmaceutical companies and correctional institutions have led to individuals on death row at risk for experiencing ineffective executions— potentially infringing on their 8th Amendment rights, protecting them form cruel and unusual punishment.

To confront the shortage states like Oklahoma turned to alternatives for executions. Specifically, correctional institutions have proposed using nitrogen, or gas chambers to execute inmates. Opponents, like Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, have questioned the effectiveness of nitrogen protocols. Dunham claimed that in other instances when using nitrogen to euthanize mammals, the American Veterinary Medical Association deemed the process inappropriate — to euthanize a 70lb pig it would take seven minutes of nitrogen, a length of time incompatible with the promised “few minutes” Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter described nitrogen would need to execute an inmate.

Other states have approached the drug shortage by turning to other drugs, some lacking scientific evidence of effectiveness within the standards of the 8th Amendment. Nevada’s solution to the drug shortage is using a new drug combination, fentanyl, diazepam, and cisatracurium. Susi Vassallo, a New York University professor of emergency medicine has commented on the lacking scientific basis for the drug combination and the increased risk factors associated with incorrectly administering the cocktail. The questionable effectiveness of Nevada’s cocktail increases risk for painful and inhumane executions.

These instances have led to public outrage. Executions are becoming less and less effective. With the climbing amount of accounts contending “botched” executions, news media and the public have begun demanding disclosure of information about execution drugs. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press describes that lawsuits brought nationwide have been on the grounds that denial of information violates inmates’ Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment, and the inmates Fourteenth Amendment rights of due process, by not giving inmates enough information exercise their appeal rights. 

However, lawsuits have also claimed a violation of First Amendment rights “for the person being executed as well as for the general public; for instance, for the press,” claimed Muhammad Faridi, an expert on lethal injection right of access issues.

In California news media organizations are suing the state to make all positions of executions public knowledge. This includes the preparation of the drug cocktails used for lethal injection. This arose from the conjunction between nationwide “botched” executions and California’s denial of public rights, to know whether execution staff properly prepared and administer the lethal dosage, the types of chemicals used, the number of doses, how the inmate reacts to each dose, and general effectiveness of the execution. 

This lawsuit can potentially stall executions that were intended to be speed up with the passage of Californias Proportion 66 in 2016.

-- Jacqueline Lantsman

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