« "The Causes of Growth in Prison Admissions and Populations" | Main | "Man charged with DUI after winning demolition derby" »

July 17, 2011

New ACLU report claims California's death penalty is already dead

Easset_upload_file82_9465_e The ACLU of Northern California has released this notable new report on the Golden State's death penalty system. The report his titled, "California's Death Penalty is Dead: Anatomy of a Failure," and here is part of the executive summary:

California’s death penalty is dead.  Prosecutors, legislators and taxpayers are turning to permanent imprisonment with no chance of parole as evidence grows that the system is costly, risky, and dangerous to public safety.  New polls also indicate that voters favor replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole, with a requirement for work and restitution paid to the Victims’ Compensation Fund.

Most significantly, only three death sentences were handed down in California from January to June 2011, compared with the same period last year when there were 13.  This is the lowest number of new death sentences in a six month period since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, and a clear indicator that district attorneys and jurors across the state are turning away from the death penalty.  On average, 49% of death sentences are decided in the first six months of the year.  This means that California may be on track for a total of less than 10 death sentences in 2011 -- the lowest number in 33 years.

Three other related developments reveal a system in total collapse:

California has not executed anyone since 2006 and there is no reason to believe that executions will ever resume.....

Death penalty promoters have been snubbed at the ballot box....

Death penalty costs are extraordinary and detrimental to public safety at a time of economic crisis.

Some recent related posts:

July 17, 2011 at 08:25 AM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e2014e89e86680970d

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference New ACLU report claims California's death penalty is already dead:

Comments

I hope that the death penalty gets overturned by legislation.

That would end the $multi-billion payments going to appellate lawyers and ACLU like agencies.

The people of California will deserve their increased murder rate by absolutely immunized murderers with LWOP.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 17, 2011 1:38:47 PM

Regardless I would have to say this report is probably correct in its conclusion. It's not like California has diligently pursued actual executions, only the initial stages of guilt and sentencing, not actually carrying it out. And that was true even before the litigation that should have been ended by Baze.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jul 17, 2011 2:09:47 PM

State legislatures and Congress need to find more expeditious and less costly approaches for implementing the death penalty that still provide essential due process for defendants. Finality is important for society, victims’ families, and the defendants. The current mess in Calif is an unacceptable method for implementing a valid state law. it undermines faith in the criminal justice system.

Posted by: Steve Prof | Jul 17, 2011 3:48:56 PM

Steve Prof --

Right on.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 17, 2011 4:51:02 PM

Thank you very much, Bill.

Posted by: Steve Prof | Jul 17, 2011 4:58:32 PM

"State legislatures and Congress need to find more expeditious and less costly approaches for implementing the death penalty that still provide essential due process for defendants. Finality is important for society, victims’ families, and the defendants."

How important is finality compared to getting the actual killer? In 1999, a Louisiana jury convicted Ryan Matthews and sentenced him to death for the 1997 murder of a convenience store employee. Matthews, who was 17 at the time the horrific crime occurred, and his friend, were stopped several hours after the homicide occurred because the car they were in matched the descriptions of the getaway car. The friend, who like Matthews, was 17 and borderline mentally retarded confessed (falsely) and said that Matthews was the shooter. Some eyewitnesses could identify Matthews; others could not.

Based on the identifications and the friend's confession, and despite some compelling evidence of actual innocence which was concealed by prosecutors, the jury convicted Matthews and sentenced him to die. Tragically, the real perpetrator committed another murder a few months later - DNA evidence collected during this investigation were compared to the DNA collected from the murder for which Matthews was convicted - forensic testing had already excluded Matthews and the friend. The second forensic examination again excluded both Matthews and his friend, and implicated the real killer.

The courts eventually vacated the conviction on the prosecutor's request.

If the real murdered had been apprehended, instead of two juveniles who just happened to be in the neighborhood at the wrong time, the second murder victim might still be alive today. If we had a "more expeditious ... approach for implementing the death penalty," Ryan Matthews might be dead.

Why should we not conclude that the elevation of finality at the expense of all other virtues - such as not killing innocents - is nothing more than a desire to avoid having our (inevitable) mistakes exposed.

Sources: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/14/opinion/trapped-in-the-system.html
and
http://truthinjustice.org/travis-hayes.htm

Posted by: C | Jul 17, 2011 10:10:07 PM

As I have posted before, California has never had an effective system for carrying out executions. Unfortunately for the state, the California Supreme Court back in the 80's and the 9th Circuit have beaten them up for years. Even with AEDPA, the 9th Circuit has repeatedly tried to vacate CA death sentences only to have SCOTUS reverse them over and over. I think the delay requested by the state on the Morales case is just maneuvering by the Brown administration to figure out a way to end the DP.

Posted by: DaveP | Jul 17, 2011 10:51:20 PM

@C
That argument is equally valid when applied to prison, given the men and women who have found themselves serving life sentences and even died of natural causes for crimes they didn't commit.
Frankly, the vast majority of inmates on death row for decades are not even raising innocence based claims.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Jul 17, 2011 11:54:02 PM

C --

When the average interval between the imposition of a death sentence and its carrying out is roughly 12 years -- and over 20 in California -- the notion that we have excessively emphasized finality is preposterous. With numbers like that, we need to be more determined, not more relaxed, about carrying out the courts' judgment.

In addition, take note of the hidden cynicism in the editorial. The same people who say we should take our time in carrying out the DP are the ones who say it takes so long that it should be abolished.

My, my, my.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 18, 2011 9:38:30 AM

Bill Otis is right on this one -- in the federal system the delay is even longer.

Posted by: Steve Prof | Jul 18, 2011 9:53:20 AM

The historical data suggest that the death penalty is an aspiration not a reality in most cases. The list gives the year, number on death row, number of execution that year and the probability (in %) of execution.

1975 488 0 0.0%
1980 691 0 0.0%
1985 1,591 18 1.1%
1990 2,356 23 1.0%
1995 3,054 56 1.8%
2000 3,593 85 2.4%
2005 3,254 60 1.8%
2010 45 3,242 1.4%

Posted by: John Neff | Jul 18, 2011 10:02:56 AM

Bill Otis: "When the average interval between the imposition of a death sentence and its carrying out is roughly 12 years -- and over 20 in California -- the notion that we have excessively emphasized finality is preposterous."

I am not suggesting that we have excessively emphasized finality - I have suggested that finality may not be the alpha and omega in death penalty cases.

You have many times noted that there is no evidence that we have executed an actually innocent person. I will take you at your word - you would certainly know better than I. Yet we know for a fact that people have spent 12 years and more on death row for a crime of which they were actually innocent. Therefore, the reason you are able to make the claim you make credibly is that there is sufficient time between conviction and the execution to discover and release the actually innocent. Reducing the time from conviction to execution will assuredly serve the goal of executing an actually innocent person.

Errors are inevitable, I have read here before, yet under the current system, no ultimate errors have occurred - no actually innocent person has been executed. This sounds like a system that works to me.

Posted by: C | Jul 18, 2011 7:56:36 PM

John Neff --

"The historical data suggest that the death penalty is an aspiration not a reality in most cases."

It's aspiring that makes life wonderful.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 18, 2011 8:07:11 PM

Steve Prof --

I am venturing out on a limb here, but I detect a change of outlook going on -- that discussing is better than barking. If I am correct, I believe the blog will become more appealing and informative for us.

In either event, thank you for your comment.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 18, 2011 8:12:29 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