Pacific News Service v. Cate

Closed Case
Sep 29, 2010

Page Media

ACLU of Northern CA

The ACLU Foundation of Northern California filed a lawsuit in March 2006 raising a constitutional challenge to California's three-drug execution protocol.

Filed on behalf of Pacific News Service, PNS v. Woodford states that part of the three-drug regimen used to carry out executions in California acts as a chemical curtain. PNS believes the drug conceals significant information, violating the First Amendment rights of the press and the public to be fully informed about executions.

The state of California uses a three drug combination to carry out executions: first, sodium pentothal, a short-acting barbiturate; second, pancuronium bromide, a drug which paralyzes all voluntary muscles; and third, potassium chloride, which causes cardiac arrest.

The PNS lawsuit focuses on the second drug, stating that it serves no legitimate purpose in the execution and masks any potential pain or suffering to which the inmate is subjected.

The ACLU Foundation of Northern California is seeking a permanent injunction to prevent the California Department of Corrections and San Quentin State Prison from using pancuronium bromide, also known as Pavulon.

In an earlier ACLU Foundation of Northern California case, CFAC v. Woodford, decided in 2002, the federal courts held that the actual curtain that was used at the first lethal execution in California "was motivated at least in part by a desire to conceal the harsh reality of executions from the public."

As a result of litigation surrounding the validity of California’s lethal-injection procedure, both state and federal courts issued injunctions that required the government to revise its execution protocol. As a result, there have been no executions in this state since Pacific News Service filed this suit. In August 2010 the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation issued a new protocol and the state insisted on setting an execution for the earliest possible date, September 29, 2010, which would have made it impossible for the courts to review the new protocol before the execution date. A state court initially ordered the government not to proceed with that execution; after a state appeals court reversed that order, Pacific News Service, as well as the prisoner, asked the federal court to stay the execution. On September 28 the court issued a stay.

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