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Ninth Circuit halts California execution

A three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Monday ordered [text, PDF] a district court judge to reconsider the stay of execution in the case of Albert Brown. Brown was convicted [NYT report] of raping and murdering a 15-year-old girl in 1982 and was scheduled to be executed on Wednesday, in what would have been the first execution in California in more than four years. The district judge ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] last Friday that Brown's execution could proceed despite arguments from his lawyers that California's new lethal injection regulations [15 CCR 3349, et seq.] should be fully reviewed by a court of law before any executions are permitted to take place. California had been enjoined from performing any executions since 2006, when the state was ordered to reconsider its lethal injection process [JURIST reports] because it was found to potentially cause undue pain and suffering in violation of the Eighth Amendment [text], which protects against cruel and unusual punishment. In its ruling, the appeals court quoted the district judge's opinion, stating that the court was unable to finish litigating the issue of whether the new regulations are valid under the Eighth Amendment. The court indicated that a full finding of fact on the issue of the regulation is required to ensure that Brown's constitutional rights are not violated. The court also noted that the timing of Brown's execution was influenced by the expiration of the state's supply of sodium thiopental, a drug used in lethal injection, and stated that it was "incredible to think that the deliberative process might be driven by the expiration date of the execution drug." The court remanded the case to the district court, indicating that the court should address the similarities between the state's previous lethal injection regulations and their new requirements.

The battle in California over proper lethal injection procedures has been ongoing since 2006 when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger [official website], in response to court rulings creating a virtual moratorium of all executions in the state, ordered [JURIST report] his administration to "correct court-identified deficiencies in California's lethal injection protocol to ensure the death penalty procedure is constitutional." Schwarzenegger submitted a proposal in 2007 [JURIST report] regarding changes to the state's protocol, including authorization to construct a new execution chamber. California's new lethal injection protocol became effective on August 29, 2010.

11:00 PM ET - US District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel stayed the execution, which had been scheduled for Thursday. While Fogel's decision can still be appealed, if the execution does not take place before Friday, the state will be unable to conduct any executions for several months because of the expiration of the state's supply of sodium thiopental.

9/29/10 - State officials called off the execution Wednesday after a ruling by the California Supreme Court. The execution will now be delayed until at least next year.

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