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Death penalty’s future in California after Supreme Court OK’s execution drug

Californians did not vote down the death penalty in the 2012 election cycle
Californians did not vote down the death penalty in the 2012 election cycle
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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Over the next 120 days, California Governor Jerry Brown and prison officials will be working to come up with a one-drug lethal injection method for the nearly 750 inmates on California’s death row, the largest in the nation.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday that states could continue to use midazolam as an execution drug after the state of Oklahoma challenged the practice following a botched execution. The majority said that executions don’t need to be painless and said that inmates challenging state execution methods should find alternatives that pose less risk of pain. The 120 day timeframe is part of a recent settlement with families of murder victims.

Despite the new deadline, there will be the need for lots of public comment on this issue, and that could take a year or more. Questions about what drugs to use in the execution cocktail and cost of housing and executing death row inmates are just some of those that are bound to come up as the process moves forward. There’s also a case before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on whether the delays in executions that sometimes span decades have left California’s death penalty system unconstitutional.

What does the future of the death penalty in California look like? How should the state formulate its execution protocol? Does the death penalty have a place in California or should it be abolished completely? What is to be done with the hundreds of inmates waiting on death row?


Sam Stanton, reporter for the Sacramento Bee. He wrote an article last month before Monday’s Supreme Court decision entitled “Is capital punishment dead in California?” He tweets @stantonsam.

Michael Ramos, San Bernardino County District Attorney

Donald Heller, attorney at Donald H. Heller, A Law Corp., and former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California. He is a former supporter of the death penalty turned opponent. He headed up a in 2012 to abolish CA’s death penalty but also wrote the 1978 ballot measure that reinstated capital punishment in CA before changing positions.