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News Media Sue California to Access All Portions of Executions

By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 13, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In a new lawsuit, journalists say they want to see everything that goes on during executions in California.

The procedure for lethal injections at San Quentin State Prison "intentionally places critical portions of the execution beyond public observation," the complaint says. The media are suing to see the whole process.

Also, new regulations say media witnesses must be removed if something goes wrong with an execution. That, in the world of controversial news, is what the media is waiting for.

Lethal Injection

After a judge lifted an injunction against executions, the state Department of Corrections is going forward with its new procedures. They were finalized in January, and provide the state will now use one strong barbiturate rather than a mixture of three to execute a prisoner.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld such execution cocktails, they are still controversial. More than a few death row inmates have died in great pain during the procedure.

Most recently, Alabama officials botched an execution and instead punctured an inmate's bladder and femoral artery. They plan to try again -- over his lawyer's his dead body, of course.

In California, the media are asking for an injunction to stop executions unless they are made public.

"Greater Room for Error"

In contrast to other methods of executions, lethal injections involve more complex steps and procedures. That leaves "greater room for error," the suit says.

Thomas R. Burke, representing the Los Angeles Times in the case, said the state can easily solve the problem. He said there's no need to delay executions or to build a new execution chamber.

"All they have to do is to carry out the execution in a way that people can watch and listen to it," he said.

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