Legal challenges to California's use of lethal injections to execute condemn prisoners, and doctors' refusals in the case of Michael Morales to deliver the fatal dose, means California is now under a de facto moratorium on executions, according to the Associated Press.
That should be considered at least a temporary victory for death penalty opponents, but a permanent ban on killing condemned prisoners with drugs will likely depend on how the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately decides on whether lethal injections are constitutional. Also not known is whether the campaign to outlaw state-sanctioned lethal injections might boost efforts to abolish the death penalty altogether.
The AP reports:
The case may eventually place the issue of lethal injection before the U.S. Supreme Court. Thirty-seven of the 38 states with capital punishment use a procedure similar to California's.
The high court has yet to weigh in on a question that inmates around the country have been raising in recent years: whether lethal injection is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual.
Last week's ruling in the Morales case by U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel shifted the debate subtly to whether licensed medical personnel should play an active role in an execution, something the American Medical Association and other medical groups have long opposed on ethical grounds.
"This is an issue that is ultimately going to have to be resolved by the Supreme Court," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "Because you're ultimately not likely ever going to have doctors in the execution chamber."