San Francisco – The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC) filed a suit Wednesday to demand records from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) relating to the recent acquisition of sodium thiopental, a controlled substance used as part of California's lethal injection protocol for executing death row inmates.
"The ultimate punishment merits maximum transparency," said ACLU of Northern California staff attorney Michael Risher. "Why the secrecy?"
In late September, the CDCR asked the courts to allow it to conduct an execution before the end of the month because its supply of sodium thiopental was about to expire and it would be unable to obtain any more of the drug before 2011. Then, on October 6, the CDCR suddenly announced it had obtained a new supply but did not explain how it had done so. On October 7, 2010, the ACLU of Northern California submitted a California Public Records Act (PRA) request to obtain records relating to this surprising development. The CDCR has failed to produce any of the records, even though the Department admits the public has a right to examine at least some of the records about its new "secret stash" of the potentially lethal drug.
"Our request is for very basic information and follows the 'five Ws' familiar to journalists: Who sold the drugs to the State of California? What was the process to acquire them? Where and when did the transaction take place?" added ACLU of Northern California staff attorney Linda Lye. "And how much did California's taxpayers have to pay?"
The request asks for basic records relating to the CDCR's acquisition, use, and destruction of sodium thiopental, including copies of the packaging and inserts that came with the drug and instructions for use.
The last batch made by the sole US-based manufacturer, Hospira, dates back to 2009 and carries an expiration date of 2011. It is unclear if the CDCR paid an exorbitant price for the scarce substance, if it obtained the sodium thiopental from a foreign source or even if the substance in their possession is in fact the same as the drug made in the US.
"The issue of government secrecy and its impact on lethal injection procedures and executions is an important one. We must hold our government accountable, especially when it comes to the death penalty," said Natasha Minsker, Death Penalty Policy Director for the ACLU of Northern California. "We need to know all of the facts before an execution is carried out. If the CDCR cannot or will not tell us the truth, there's even more reason for California to replace the death penalty with the common sense alternative of permanent imprisonment with absolutely no possibility of parole."