« Penn Law Review presents “Sentencing Law: Rhetoric & Reality” | Main | Taking stock of New York's historic prison population drop »

October 16, 2011

Could California have lots of executions once its death machinery is operational again?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this effective new article from the San Jose Mercury News, which is headlined "California's execution machine could crank up." Here are excerpts:

Amid renewed efforts to repeal California's death penalty and nearly six years into a de facto moratorium on executions, San Quentin's death row has quietly piled up an unprecedented number of inmates who have exhausted their legal appeals and would face imminent death by lethal injection if the state resumes carrying out the ultimate punishment.

At least a dozen inmates could be executed in a span of a few months if an oft-stalled legal challenge to the state's lethal injection method is resolved, roughly the same number of condemned murderers California has put to death in more than three decades of capital punishment.

A Bay Area News Group review shows 12 death row inmates have been turned away in their appeals all the way through the U.S. Supreme Court, generally considered the final stage in the lengthy death penalty review process.  At least two other inmates have lost their appeals through the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ordinarily is the last, best hope to overturn a death sentence, while others are awaiting rulings from that court.

Three Bay Area condemned killers are among the 12 -- David Allen Raley, from Santa Clara County; Harvey Heishman, from Alameda County; and Douglas Mickey, sentenced in San Mateo County.  The dozen inmates eligible for execution dates have averaged 27 years on death row, where 720 prisoners await their fate.

For a state where executions have been such a rarity, the prospect of a flurry of them could test California's appetite for the death penalty, possibly at a time when foes of capital punishment are working furiously toward a November 2012 ballot measure that would abolish death sentences altogether....

The timing of a resumption of executions is no sure thing.  The lethal injection challenge continues to languish in the federal courts, but may get moving early next year because prison officials recently notified a federal judge they finally will have a new execution team in place by this coming week.  Lawyers on both sides had been awaiting that development to proceed to a hearing.

But if the case continues to drag on, that will only add to the backlog of inmates who finish their appeals.  Even the generally liberal 9th Circuit has been upholding more death sentences in recent years, and has found itself quickly reversed in several instances by the U.S. Supreme Court when it has attempted to overturn them....

Experts say there could be a variety of reactions and results if California becomes a state that regularly carries out executions, including further strains on the legal system. Ohio's state Supreme Court, faced with a similar rush a few years ago, has now scheduled one execution per month through 2013 to pace the process.  In California, prosecutors would need to turn to judges in their counties to secure execution dates for each inmate, a scattered process that could take months or longer to unfold.

In addition, Gov. Jerry Brown and his approach to the death penalty would be quickly tested in a string of clemency requests; no California governor has commuted a death sentence in the modern death penalty era.

Death penalty advocates say executions would remove one common argument against capital punishment in California.   "If we do actually start carrying out executions, it would undermine the argument that the death penalty is not being enforced and we should get rid of it," said Kent Scheidegger, director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.

October 16, 2011 at 05:48 PM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e2014e8c4c3cef970d

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Could California have lots of executions once its death machinery is operational again?:

Comments

Here's a list of the inmates (at the bottom of the page): http://www.cncpunishment.com/forums/showthread.php?3841-Update-on-California-Death-Row-Inmate-Status&p=13568&viewfull=1#post13568

Posted by: alpino | Oct 17, 2011 9:23:17 AM

I sure hope they start killin 'em quick - afore they start trying to figgur out why to do it accordian to the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation

Posted by: Al Ammo | Oct 17, 2011 2:56:35 PM

I will believe it when it happens.

Posted by: DaveP | Oct 17, 2011 4:21:19 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