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January 11, 2008

Review finds that California's capital system "is a mess"

Students of the death penalty will not be at all surprised to learn that many agree that California's capital punishment system is badly in need of reform.  As previewed here, a commission in California has started reviewing the state's death penalty system.  This article from San Jose Mercury News reports on what the commission is hearing:

Leading judges and scholars provided a grim verdict Thursday on how well the California justice system is carrying out the ultimate punishment as a state commission began an unprecedented review of the death penalty.  From California Chief Justice Ronald George, a death penalty supporter, to law professors who oppose capital punishment, the theme was consistent: The state's death penalty system is a mess.

George and six other witnesses, including a federal appeals court judge and Florida's former chief justice, named a string of reforms to improve death penalty justice in California, where there are now nearly 670 inmates on death row who typically spend decades awaiting execution.  But for the most part, many of the proposals called for spending more money — just as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger elsewhere in the building was proposing dramatic cuts in education and prisons to cope with a $14 billion budget shortfall.

"The current system is not functioning effectively," George told the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. "We're at a point now where choices must be made."

The hearing in Sacramento was the first of three the state commission has scheduled to explore the death penalty system. Thursday's focus was on proposals to ease the nation's biggest backlog of death row appeals, as well as studies that show California has applied the death penalty inconsistently.

Former Attorney General John Van de Kamp, chair of the commission, stressed that the panel will not address the "morality of the death penalty," only issues related to the handling of capital trials and appeals. Two years ago, the Legislature established the commission, a cross-section of prosecutors, defense lawyers and other justice experts, to examine the state's death penalty and other criminal justice issues.

This article in the Los Angeles Times has this summary of what transpired before the commission: "A procession of legal experts declared Thursday that the state's manner of meting out the death penalty had become so bogged down and dogged by inequities that wholesale repair was needed.  But during the first of three hearings by a state criminal justice commission there was little agreement on what would constitute the best fix."

January 11, 2008 at 06:47 AM | Permalink

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