Two key reasons why National Jurist named Berkeley Law’s Death Penalty Clinic one of America’s 15 most innovative law school clinics last year? Attorneys Megan McCracken and Jen Moreno ’06, who lead its pioneering Lethal Injection Project.
“As a direct result of their work, death-row prisoners in multiple states have been spared from executions that rely on untested drugs and experimental procedures,” says federal public defender Dale Baich, who presented the American Bar Association’s John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award to Moreno and McCracken last fall for their leadership on the matter. “They’ve been instrumental in raising awareness of these issues among lawmakers and the public.”
Since 2007, Moreno and McCracken have provided litigation resources and consultation to lawyers challenging lethal injection’s constitutionality in 29 jurisdictions. During that time, seven states have abolished capital punishment. “As long as states carry out executions,” Moreno says, “we’ll fight for our clients’ right to be executed in a constitutional manner and to make states more accountable and more transparent.”
Amid jarring stories of botched executions, McCracken and Moreno challenge state practices under the Administrative Procedures Act and the importing of lethal-injection drugs in violation of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Clinic director and faculty member Elisabeth Semel says, “Their tenacious work has exposed states’ willingness to obtain execution drugs secretly and illegally and to experiment with untested chemicals in executions.”
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2006 ruling that lethal-injection techniques can be litigated, many death-row inmates have sued—alleging violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In response, several states have put lethal injection on hold.
While battles remain, McCracken is optimistic. “Look at the extensive media coverage of these problems,” she says. “Public perception is well informed and ahead of the courts.”
— Andrew Cohen