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ACLU lawsuit: California executions violate witness First Amendment rights

[JURIST] The ACLU of Northern California [advocacy website] has filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF; press release] in the US District Court of Northern California on behalf of Pacific News Service, seeking a permanent injunction to prevent the California Department of Corrections [official website] and San Quentin Prison from using the paralytic drug pancuronium bromide (also known as Pavulon) during executions, arguing that it violates the First Amendment [text] rights of execution witnesses. Jon Streeter [attorney profile], ACLU cooperating attorney, said the drug effectively creates "a chemical curtain that hides what really goes on in the death chamber. In the name of freedom of the press, we are demanding that the State take that curtain down." The ACLU filed an amicus brief [PDF text] in a similar suit a year ago on behalf of condemned inmate Donald Beardslee. That suit was rejected on procedural grounds.

The method and drug used for executions in California are similar to those used by 37 other states. The California injection protocol is currently being challenged in the Morales case [JURIST news archive], on the basis that California's procedures constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment [text]. Hearings in the Morales case are set to begin May 2 in federal court in San Jose. The US Supreme Court has never addressed the issue. AP has more.

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