We receive a reply from the state of California
Think of California and we call to mind Hollywood and the film industry, Silicon Valley and major companies such as Microsoft and Google, cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, important universities such as Caltech, the home of surfing, and altogether a state which is a pace setter in the world and one which is much admired. There have recently been some TV adverts in the UK promoting the state as an exciting place to visit.
But there is a dark side which is that the state is keen on the death penalty. USA is the only country in the Americas to retain this penalty and California is one of the states which retains it in the Union. The web site Death Penalty Information Center gives the statistics for those executed and on death row and explains that the county of Los Angeles has more prisoners on death row than any other county in the USA. California has 741 inmates on death row (2015).
Last year there was an attempt to end it with something called Proposition 62 which failed. Proposition 66 to retain it was successful. So the state will continue to execute.
Amnesty is opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances. It is ineffective as a deterrent, mistakes – and there are many – cannot be undone and it is a barbaric and uncivilised practice. Juries are less and less willing to convict if they know the defendant may be executed. During the course of the debate about the propositions Amnesty members wrote in favour of 62 as part of the consultation process. Anyone who has doubts about its use as a penalty should read Clive Stafford Smith’s book on the subject reviewed here. Chapter after chapter reveals the unfair processes which lead to someone ending up on death row. Poor defendants cannot afford proper counsel and failures in the trial can mean avenues of defence are ‘procedurally barred’ at an appeal.
We have just received a reply from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Motto: A Safer California through Correctional Excellence) in the state capital Sacramento with over 30 pages of material. Essentially it contains detailed information of a bureaucratic nature concerning how the death penalty is to be administered. There is something ghoulish about such a document and reading the fine grain of how someone is to be put to death. There are pages and pages of details and we can only provide a short extract here. Hannah Arendt’s phrase ‘the banality of evil’ springs to mind. Here are some extracts:
inmates sentenced to death shall have the opportunity to elect to have the punishment imposed by lethal gas or lethal injection. Upon being served with the warrant of execution, the inmate shall be served with CDCR Form 1801 – B (Rev 10/15), Service of Execution Warrant […] subsection 3349
the inmate shall be notified of the opportunity to elect lethal gas or lethal injection and that, if the inmate does not choose either lethal gas or lethal injection within ten calendar days after being served with the execution warrant, the penalty of death shall be imposed by lethal injection. […]
Infusion Control Room means the space allocated for the Lethal Injection Chemical preparation area and is the room designed to accommodated the Infusion Sub-Team designated members of the Intravenous Sub-Team, the Team Administrator Team Supervisor, designated members of the Record Keeping Sub-Team, San Quintin Litigation Coordinator and one representative each from the Governor’s Office, the Inspector General Office and the Attorney Generals Office. Subsection 3349
The Team Administrator shall ensure training on the lethal injection process is provided to each Lethal Injection Team member.
Ensure the inmate has a copy of the current California Code of Corrections, Title 15, Division 3, for review of general rules and procedures that shall be utilized during the days leading up to the date of execution.
The Lethal Injection Chemical selection shall be done on a case-by-case basis, taking into account changing factors such as the availability of a supply of chemical. The San Quintin Warden shall make the selection in consultation with medical personnel and notify the CDCR Secretary of the selection.
Inform the inmate that he/she shall be executed by lethal injection, the Lethal Injection Chemical and amount to be used, and document this information on CDCR Form 1801-A (Rev. 10/15), Choice of Execution Method.
Refer the inmate to the Intravenous Sub-Team for a vein assessment to determine the size, location, and resilience of the veins. The vein assessment shall identify the primary, backup, and alternate backup locations. […]
[information] shall be used to determine if there is good reason to believe the inmate has become insane, pursuant to Penal Code Section 3701. […]
Accommodations for the last meal shall be reasonable and not exceed a fifty dollar $50 limit.
Thus far, it has been 20 pages of material concerning the events leading up to the execution. The document begins to become more gruesome when it starts to describe the actual execution process itself:
After the inmate is secured in the Lethal Injection Room, the Intravenous Sub-Team members shall […] inspect the restraints to ensure they do not restrict the inmate’s circulation or interfere with the insertion of the catheters. p22
#1 -60cc syringe containing the specified amount of the designated Lethal Injection Chemical shall be administered, followed by a consciousness assessment of the inmate; the Intravenous Sub-Team Member shall brush the back of his/her hand over the inmate’s eyelashes, and speak to and gently shake the inmate. Observations shall be documented. If the inmate is unresponsive, it will demonstrate that inmate is unconscious. The process shall continue as follows:
#2 -60cc syringe containing the specified amount of the designated Lethal Injection Chemical shall be administered
[then syringe #3; #4; #5 then a saline flush] p23
If, following the administration of syringe #1 the assessment indicates the inmate is not unconscious, the Intravenous Sub-Team member shall check the catheter for patency. After checking for patency, syringe #2 shall be administered followed by a second consciousness assessment of the inmate in the same manner [as described earlier] […]
In the event all six syringes from Tray A have been administered, the ten minutes countdown has elapsed and death has not been declared, the Record Keeping Sub-Team member shall advise the Team Supervisor, who will then advise the Team Administrator and the San Quentin Warden. The San Quentin Warden shall direct the Lethal Injection Chemical administration process set forth in subsections (43) – (8) be repeated, but using the backup intravenous catheter and the six syringes from Tray B. p24
This paragraph is then repeated and ends with the use of Tray C. It then goes on:
In the event of all six syringes from Tray C have been administered, the ten minutes countdown has elapsed and death has not been declared, the San Quentin Warden shall direct the Infusion Sub-Team to prepare a set of five addition syringes of Lethal Injection Chemical, each containing 1.5 grams of Lethal Injection Chemical. The Lethal Injection Chemical shall be mixed according to the manufacture’s instructions. A medically trained Infusion Sub-Team shall prepare the syringes. A separate medically trained Infusion Sub-Team member or Intravenous Sub-Team member shall verify proper preparation of each syringe. The Warden shall direct the Record keeping Sub-team member to initiate the ten minute countdown and the Infusion Sub-Team to administer a syringe containing 1.5 grams of the Lethal Injection Chemical in the alternate backup intravenous line, and wait for ten minutes. If the inmate’s death has not been declared by the end of that ten-minute period, the San Quentin Warden shall direct the same process be followed until five syringes have been administered. If at any time during this process the inmate is declared dead, the administration of Lethal Injection Chemical shall stop.
This paragraph is then repeated to say that if the inmate is still not dead after another ten minutes then the process is repeated.
In the event that all ten syringes of Lethal Injection Chemical referred to [in the document] have been administered, ten minutes have elapsed, and death has not been declared, the San Quentin Warden shall stop the execution and summon medical assistance for the inmate as set forth in subsection (d) p25
The meticulous detail and the amount of injections which might be necessary and the successive periods of waiting to see if he or she has died – to see it all methodically described and set out in laborious detail is decidedly chilling.
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Clive Stafford Smith is a member of Reprieve