ACLU of Northern California Calls on State to Allow Full Press Access to Executions


Death Penalty

First Amendment Guarantees Right to View Entire Procedure

(From Press Release) – The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California and Keker, Van Nest & Peters LLP today filed suit against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) challenging its execution viewing procedure.

The state issued a new lethal injection protocol for San Quentin State Prison that went into effect March 1. But the execution chamber built by CDCR places critical portions of the procedure outside of public view and deprives journalists the right to view and fully report on the execution.

“The courts have ruled that executions are public proceedings,” said Ajay Krishnan, a partner with Keker, Van Nest & Peters. “This means that California may not administer its executions from a back room, outside of the view of the press and the public.”

The suit calls on the state to recognize the media and other witnesses’ First Amendment right to view the entire execution without interruption. The death penalty represents the most powerful exercise of government authority. Without complete media access, the public has no way to assess the execution and make informed decisions.

“The press serves as the eyes of the public.” said Linda Lye, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “If the state is going to conduct executions, the media has a right to attend, observe, and report on all aspects of the procedure, especially because the new protocol could give rise to complications and botched executions.”

Plaintiffs in the suit are media organizations. The San Francisco Progressive Media Center, a nonprofit that publishes the website, intends to send reporters to witness and report on California executions.

“When an event is as newsworthy as the state taking a life, we need to be able to tell the public the full story,” said Editor Tim Redmond. “We want to be able to inform our readers about how this new protocol works in practice, and we can’t do that if critical parts of the process happen in secret.”

The Los Angeles Times and KQED are co-plaintiffs in this litigation, and are separately represented by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. The case, LA Times et al. v. Kernan, et al., was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

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