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Newark, N.J.�New Jersey’s intermediate appellate court has halted lethal injection executions in the state, ruling that the medical knowledge on which they are based is inadequate. Sylvia Pressler, presiding judge of the state Appellate Division, also opened the door for executions to be filmed by the media so the public can see “the reality of the choices it makes.” Her dramatically worded decision reads at times more like an editorial than a ruling. She said regulations adopted by the state Department of Corrections to govern executions are “arbitrary,” “unreasonable” and “tautological,” and that the death penalty might only be “conceptually” constitutional. She said the rules were written without the required medical investigation into whether a lethal injection is “reversible”-if a prisoner won a reprieve after the injection had been given but before the drugs had run their course. “We appreciate that the grant of a stay . . . is not a likely event. It can, however, happen,” stated Pressler, joined by James Ciancia and Edwin Alley. “And should it occur, there can be no justification for depriving that inmate a chance at life . . . .[W]e are persuaded that a death penalty cannot be carried out under these regulations.” In re Readoption With Amendments of Death Penalty Regulations, No. A-0899-01T1. Six cases affected The Department of Corrections was ordered to hold further hearings and to do more research before carrying out an execution. The ruling affects the fate of at least six pending death penalty cases, in addition to the 13 men on death row. Pressler reiterated the importance of the ban on “cruel and unusual punishments” and the opinion by Robert Wilentz, then New Jersey chief justice, in State v. Ramseur, 106 N.J. 123 (1987), that the test for cruelty changes with evolving standards of decency. With that as its context, Pressler found that the department’s argument-that the “reversibility” of lethal injection is irrelevant because the death penalty is intended to be irreversible-was a “tautological explanation” of the rule. The reversibility issue was triggered by the department’s attempt to remove an emergency medical cart from the execution chamber. The department’s lawyers, deputy attorneys general Patrick DeAlmeida and David Ragonese, took a somber view of the ruling. “We’re happy the department has an opportunity to re-examine the regs that were called into question by the court and to create a record to support them,” DeAlmeida said. “At least they weren’t eviscerated.”

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