« Padilla sentencing already creating headlines | Main | What golf rule reform can teach everyone about sentencing reform »

January 8, 2008

California debating death in a fitting forum

20080106_095828_death As suggested here, I generally view most arguments against the death penalty to be stronger policy arguments than constitutional claims.  Consequently, I was pleased to see this article from the San Jose Mercury News, headlined "California to review use of death penalty in state," reporting on a broad examination of the operation of death penalty in the state with the largest death row in the country.  Here is how the thoughtful piece begins:

Just a few weeks ago, an Alameda County judge sentenced an Oakland man to death for raping and killing an 11-year-old girl, the latest addition to what is by far the nation's longest roster of condemned inmates.  The convicted killer, Alex Demolle, will now enter a legal twilight zone that has made California the most schizophrenic death penalty state in the country.  Fewer juries are sending murderers to death row, but the state nevertheless now has nearly 670 of them awaiting execution, nearly double the number of Texas or Florida.

California would have to execute one inmate a day for nearly two years to clear its death row.  And the past 20 years have made it clear the state has no appetite for that prospect — just 13 inmates have been executed since 1978.  Meanwhile, many more — 39 inmates —  have died of illness or old age, six of them last year.  Fourteen have committed suicide.

Against that backdrop and concerns about the fairness of how counties across the state use the death penalty, a key state justice commission this week will begin to take the closest look in years at California's awkward approach to enforcing capital punishment.  The state Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, which was established two years ago with an eye toward examining the state's death penalty, on Thursday will hold the first of three hearings on the subject.

January 8, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e200e54fd8468c8834

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference California debating death in a fitting forum:

Comments

And as a policy matter, it should be left to the electorate to decide...

Posted by: | Jan 8, 2008 9:19:50 AM

A "fitting forum"? Hardly. This commission's first act was to hire an anti-death-penalty partisan as its executive director. What does that tell you?

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jan 8, 2008 12:32:44 PM

The state has no appetite? Certainly the existence of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has something to do with California's slow march to execution.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 8, 2008 12:46:30 PM

The second story in two days about the wrong man on death row in California.

Gun found in field might help free inmate

A man says he buried the weapon after committing the 1989 murder that another man was sentenced to death for.

By Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
January 8, 2008

A rusted old gun found last month in a Modesto field has been identified as the same kind of weapon a hit man alleged he used to kill a man 19 years ago.

The identification by a state Department of Justice laboratory could help prove the innocence of Dennis Lawley, who has spent almost two decades on death row for the 1989 murder of Kenneth Lawton Stewart.

Posted by: George | Jan 8, 2008 2:49:07 PM

George, please stop spamming the blog.

If people want to find news articles where a reporter thinks that some new evidence might undermine the case against someone on death row, it's only a Google search away.

To stoop to your level for a second, the article is not a story "about the wrong man on death row in California." A man is on death row, and another man says he did it. This second person says that he fired the shot that killed the victim, and then he buried the gun in a field. This shocking new evidence shows that, holy crap, this other guy actually did bury a gun!!! If that's not a stinging indictment of the death penalty, then I don't know what is.

If you're not satisfied with people's knowledge of how to use Google, feel free to start your own blog.

Posted by: anonymous | Jan 8, 2008 3:07:18 PM

No, you start your own blog if you don't like it. If our host tells tells me to cool it, that's one thing, and he has my email address, but some anonymous poster who is probably one of the previous spin doctors carries little weight with me. Carries none, actually. Stuff it.

Posted by: George | Jan 8, 2008 3:14:43 PM

As a Brit I would like to know whether the death penalty is used as a detterent or a way of removing an offender from the burden of the tax payer? Is it the authorities stating 'we can't help this individual, it's in their and our best intrests to kill them'? I feel it's an archic system with dealing with criminals and what I would expect from some backwater extreemist country.

Posted by: The Greater Spotted Horny Toad | Jan 8, 2008 4:15:54 PM

As a Brit I would like to know whether the death penalty is used as a detterent or a way of removing an offender from the burden of the tax payer? Is it the authorities stating 'we can't help this individual, it's in their and our best intrests to kill them'? I feel it's an archic system with dealing with criminals and what I would expect from some backwater extreemist country

Good question. I think the answer to the question whether the DP is used as "a way of removing an offender from the burden of the taxpayer" is no. For a variety of reasons, it costs more taxpayer money to execute someone than to imprison them for life. The death penalty is generally imposed on the worst of the worst, though other factors influence the calculus to varying degrees, such as demographic biases, political exigencies in the forum state, and the ability of the defendant to afford good lawyers.

The DP is supposed to function as a deterrent. Some think its main "value" is in giving the government leverage in plea bargaining situations.

Posted by: | Jan 8, 2008 5:47:01 PM

"For a variety of reasons, it costs more taxpayer money to execute someone than to imprison them for life."

Mostly two reasons: (1) we spend far too much conducting and reviewing the penalty phase of capital cases; and (2) we don't spend enough on the guilt phase of life-imprisonment cases.

The death penalty would not be more expensive than life imprisonment if we did them both right.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jan 8, 2008 6:36:58 PM

The shift of resources would likely result in more reliable guilt verdicts, i.e., a less error prone justice system. But, alas, "death is different", and it's better that a guilty man escape death than to reap the marginal benefits of increased quality of guilt/innocence verdicts.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 8, 2008 6:49:32 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB