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California Tries to Revamp Death Penalty Procedures

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January 14, 2016

After having its death penalty protocols repeatedly ruled unconstitutional, California will once again attempt to rewrite the process to comply with court rulings.  The California Catholic Conference will be among many speaking out against the use of the death penalty and the protocols at a hearing next Friday.

“The Golden Rule,” said Pope Francis in his address to Congress last fall, “reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development. This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty.”

In California’s proposal for new death protocols, not only do the regulations limit the inmate’s access to chaplains and spiritual advisors as the execution draws near but – in an effort to make the killing more humane –  the state has switched from a three drug protocol to one drug. The effectiveness of this new single drug protocol is still questionable.   

The cocktail of deadly drugs are designed to address the growing number of “botched” executions in this country and are one of the many reasons the death penalty is receiving more scrutiny.   Increased awareness of the disparate use of the punishment among minorities and stunning revelations that many innocent people are executed are also some of the many reasons this nation is moving away from the death penalty.

Nineteen states have already eliminated its use and just this week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Florida’s protocols unconstitutional.  In addition to the U.S., only four other industrialized nations use the punishment.   China puts more people to death than any other nation followed by Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the United States.

California holds 746 people on San Quentin’s Death Row.  The last execution in the state was Jan. 17, 2006.

Consistency in the abhorrence of violence is the hallmark of the Church's teaching on the death penalty. In the Culture of Life and the Death Penalty the U.S. Bishops also point to the fact that state-sanctioned killing diminishes us all, the application of capital punishment is flawed and inconsistent, and that the state has other ways of punishing criminals.