Days before California voters decide whether to ban capital punishment or expedite executions, state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials have sent a new execution protocol to its final administrative review.
"The Office of Administrative Law has up to 30 working days to review and approve it," said CDCR spokeswoman Terry Thornton. Depending on when they are approved, the new rules would take effect no later than April 1.
A federal judge put a stop to executions in 2006, citing concerns about the state's three-drug execution protocol. The Brown administration agreed to develop a new protocol as a result of a lawsuit brought by the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.
Nearly 20 inmates on California's death row have exhausted their legal appeals and are eligible for execution. But Thornton would not speculate on when the next execution would be scheduled if voters reject Proposition 62, which would outlaw capital punishment.
"It's odd timing," said Matt Cherry, executive director of Death Penalty Focus, which is supporting Proposition 62. "We believe the whole question of how to kill prisoners is moot until after the election," he added.
Cherry said he's certain if Proposition 62 fails, a legal challenge would be brought against the new execution protocol.
"Even if they survive legal challenge, which I doubt they would, they would still have to find the drugs," Cherry said. "What we know about the four drugs proposed by the state is that two are forbidden by the manufacturer to be used in executions."
A CDCR official said the state has its own compounding pharmacy to make the drugs, if it comes to that.
The other two drugs in the new protocol, Cherry said, have never been used in executions. "Using them for that would amount to human experimentation," he added, suggesting a legal line of attack.
A new Field Poll shows Proposition 62 leading 51 percent to 45 percent, with the rest undecided. Proposition 66, which would expedite executions, is favored by 48 percent of voters, while 42 percent are opposed and 10 percent aren't sure.
If both measures pass, whichever gets more votes would prevail.