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February 13, 2014

Trio of former governors to get behind initiative to reform California's dysfunctional death penalty

As reported in this Los Angeles Times article, "three former California governors are set to announce their endorsement Thursday of a proposed initiative sponsors say would end lengthy death penalty appeals and speed up executions." Here is more:

Former governors George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis will announce at a news conference the launch of an initiative drive for signatures to qualify the proposed constitutional amendment for the November ballot.

The measure, if qualified, would ignite the second statewide debate on the death penalty in two years. A ballot proposal that would have ended capital punishment in California narrowly lost in 2012, with 48% of voters in favor and 52% against.

The new proposal would establish five-year court deadlines for deciding death row appeals, transfer most death penalty cases from the California Supreme Court to lower courts, and allow capital inmates to be spread among the general prison population. It also would require the condemned to work in prison, remove any threat of state sanctions from doctors who advise the state on lethal injection procedures, and exempt the execution protocols from a state administrative law that requires extensive public review.

California now has more than 700 people on death row, and the last inmate was executed in 2006. The state currently has no court-approved method of lethally injecting the condemned, and drugs to do so have been difficult to obtain. The state also has had trouble recruiting lawyers willing to handle capital appeals, which can take decades to be resolved in state and federal courts.

I am hoping this capital reform initiative makes the California ballot given that a majority of Californians have voted to retain the death penalty in the state. I have to believe that California voters do not want to preserve the distinctly dysfunction death penalty system it now has, and this initiative would appear to be the most efficient and effective means to make the state's system more functional.

If this capital reform initiative makes the California ballot, it will also be interesting to see how California's current governor and attorney general will chime in on the issue. My sense is that Gov Brown and AG Harris are generally opposed to an active capital punishment system, and thus they may be disinclined to support the initiative. But it should be hard for them to explain to voters why the support a dysfunction capital punishment system over a functional one.

February 13, 2014 at 09:22 AM | Permalink


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"But it should be hard for them to explain to voters why the support a dysfunction capital punishment system over a functional one."

I often disagree with Doug, but he has nailed this one.

A person can contribute to the initiative by going here: https://www.efundraisingconnections.com/c/CaliforniansForDeathPenaltyReformandSavings/

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 13, 2014 1:26:02 PM

Other than five years being way too long to decide most appeals and a preference that death penalty cases should be decided by the state supreme court, the reforms seem sensible.

If there is a legitimate reason why under the current system California can't resolve cases in a much shorter time than five years without moving cases from the state Supreme Court then perhaps other changes need to be examined (e.g., perhaps adopting the Texas system in which there are separate high courts from civil and criminal cases).

Posted by: tmm | Feb 13, 2014 5:16:11 PM

¿ IF the defendant is executed 5 years + 5 months + 5 days from the death sentence „ THEN how is the situation handled if it is later learned that the defendant had 0.0 % involvement and another committed the crime for which the defendant was executed ? ! ‼

Professor Berman and Attorney Otis both opine well .

Docile Jim Brady – Columbus OH 43209
Associate Member OACDL ,
▲but opining and typing▲ for myself and not it.
Nemo Me Impune Lacessit

Posted by: Just Plain Jim (Just Another Guy) | Feb 14, 2014 10:38:09 AM

Many years back, Justice Stanley Mosk proposed adopting the Texas/Oklahoma system of having a separate Court of Criminal Appeals as the court of last resort for criminal cases. He got nearly zero traction with it.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Feb 14, 2014 12:55:32 PM

Just Plain Jim --

If the defendant is executed and later found to have been innocent, it will be a horrible thing, which makes me very happy that no such thing has happened for at least 50 years.

If the defendant is not executed and later kills yet more innocent people, that too will be a horrible thing, which makes me very unhappy, since it happens once every few months.

Doug and I enjoy dueling with each other, and I'm glad you enjoy it too.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 14, 2014 1:04:04 PM

Innocents being executed is not for me the primary reason to oppose the death penalty but various limits, delays and so forth opposed by some people in various cases have stopped that from happening. Interestingly, fifty years ago is about when such measures began to be kicked in high gear on the federal level.

As to "none" in fifty years, a few accounts of studies I have read makes that sound a bit exaggerated. But, proving innocence long after the fact is a pretty hard thing. A defendant not executed but kept in confinement would not lead to that record of killings either -- murder in prisons don't occur that often. OTOH, most murderers aren't sentenced to death. This was a historical norm.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 14, 2014 4:17:40 PM

@Kent Scheidegger

More generally, making sections specialized in a matter (crime, estates and so forth) in courts and, above all in the supreme ones, seem like a good idea.

Posted by: visitor | Feb 14, 2014 5:08:06 PM

Joe --

"A defendant not executed but kept in confinement would not lead to that record of killings either -- murder in prisons don't occur that often."

Actually, it occurs at a rate of about one a week.


That would mean a bit more than 500 murders in prison over the last ten years.

And how many innocent people have been put to death over that time?

Correct answer: Zero.

Incorrect allegation: Two (Troy Davis and Cameron Willingham)(in fact, the proof of the guilt of both men was proved to the satisfaction of many, many judges).

But let's take the figure of two, anyway.

Pop quiz: Knowing nothing else, which system of punishment would you prefer -- a system that results in the deaths of two innocent people, or one that results in the deaths of hundreds?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 15, 2014 3:25:14 AM

Jim: If innocence were a sincere concern of the lawyer, then appellate cases would be reviewed by top investigators, looking for mistakes of fact, and not by know nothing lawyers looking for mistakes of law (loopholes).

If a wrong person has been executed, the estate should be able to sue for wrongful death. Because it is an intentional killing, exemplary damages should apply, at a level meaningful to the size of the criminal justice system, such as 10% of the budget. To deter.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 15, 2014 9:38:27 AM

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