Executions in California will remain suspended after a state appeals court ruled that corrections officials made several "substantial" procedural errors when they adopted new lethal injection rules.
The 1st District Court of Appeals said the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation failed to explain, as required by state law, why it was switching from a three-drug injection method to a single drug.
The court's opinion, which affirmed a lower court ruling, also said the agency misled the public by not providing the documents and information it used to reach its decision.
Corrections spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said in an email that the agency was reviewing the ruling.
"In the meantime, at the governor's direction, CDCR is continuing to develop proposed regulations for a single-drug protocol in order to ensure that California's laws on capital punishment are upheld," Hoffman said.
California has not executed an inmate since 2006, when a federal judge halted the practice, finding that the three-drug mixture amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. The state was ordered to redo its capital punishment system.
Since then, California has built a new death chamber at San Quentin State Prison and trained a new team to carry out executions.
There are currently 733 inmates on death row in California.
Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered prison officials to explore using a single drug, as some other states do, which could reduce the risk of suffering by condemned inmates. But the appeals court found that, in adopting those rules, corrections officials did not give the public the level of information that is required in adopting new regulations.
"A hearing is ... meaningful only if the interested public has timely received all available information that is relevant to the proposed regulations, accurate, and as complete as reasonably possible," Presiding Judge J. Anthony Kline wrote. "The public that participated in the CDCR's rulemaking process was not so fully informed."
The agency argued that it responded to more than 29,000 public comments and a lengthy public hearing on the matter during which 102 people provided comments as proof that it complied with state law in making the new regulation.
Kline did not agree.
"As we have seen, the 102 people who attended the ... hearing and the 29,416 who submitted written comments were not made aware (or timely made aware) of much of the information relied upon by the CDCR in proposing the three-drug protocol, and were, in fact, misled about this," Kline wrote.