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National Crime Victim Law Institute

Winchell v. Beard, Case No. 34-3014-80001968 (Cal. Super. Ct. Jan. 30, 2015)

February 12, 2015

Winchell v. Beard, Case No. 34-3014-80001968 (Cal. Super. Ct. Jan. 30, 2015).  The petitioners, relatives of murder victims, petitioned the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to adopt lethal injection regulations that are in compliance with state and federal law, which CDCR denied.  Until such regulations are adopted, the convicted murderers of the victims cannot be executed.  The petitioners then sought a writ of mandate directing CDCR to promulgate such regulations.  The CDCR demurred to the petition, arguing that the petitioners lacked standing and that the CDCR’s actions are not subject to writ relief.  The court first found that the petitioners did have standing to sue.  The court explained that to have standing, a petitioner must show that he is “beneficially interested in the outcome.”  The court found that the petitioners were beneficially interested in the outcome given their status as crime victims.  Additionally, the petitioners may have “public interest standing,” in which case no beneficial interest need be shown.  The court further explained that public interest standing is permissible if “the object of the mandamus is to procure the enforcement of a public duty, which Petitioners are attempting to do by having CDCR issue regulations.”  Second, the court found that writ of mandate was an appropriate tool for the petitioners to use.  CDCR argued that the writ was inappropriate because: (1) promulgation of regulations is a discretionary duty; and (2) the petitioners cannot allege that CDCR has refused to act or abused its discretion.  The court noted that the promulgation of regulations was not a discretionary duty as California’s Penal Code requires that CDCR promulgate standards effectuating the death penalty.  CDCR had not done so, and had failed to do so for several years.  The court continued that mandate is an appropriate tool to compel administrative agencies to issue regulations and that it is therefore an appropriate remedy to compel CDCR to issue standards to effectuate its statutory duties.  The court clarified that mandate would not lie to dictate the content of such regulations, merely to promulgate some standard that would put CDCR in compliance with its duties.  Accordingly, the demurrer to the petition was overruled.