This morning at San Francisco’s City Hall, members of the SAFE California Coalition submitted signatures to the Department of Elections to put an initiative on the November ballot that would end the death penalty in California. Proponents say they gathered over 800,000 signatures, which will now be reviewed by elections officials before they’re able to send the proposal to voters. If passed, the initiative would replace capital punishment with life without the possibility of parole.
SAFE California’s message is three-pronged. The group says California’s death penalty is expensive, prone to error, and ineffective–both in that it hasn’t been carried out in years because of constitutional lawsuits, and because, they say, it doesn’t make California safer.
The previous year was a huge one for criminal justice in California, and 2012 promises to be just as dramatic. This year we’ll see the continued fallout of California’s prison overcrowding crisis, which coupled with the state’s financial crisis, is opening the doors to reforms never thought possible in our state. Here are three big issues to watch this coming year.
According to the San Jose Mercury News:
In court papers filed Wednesday, the Brown administration and lawyers for death row inmates agreed that the soonest they will finish preliminary legal skirmishing in the long-running challenge to the state’s lethal injection procedures will be September 2012 — a development that assures a federal judge is unlikely to resolve the case before the end of next year.
As a result, California’s de facto moratorium on executions, already nearing six full years, will stretch on in a state with more than 720 inmates on death row.
If that schedule holds true, California voters may have the option of eliminating the death penalty before this case is decided. A ballot initiative that could end capital punishment is tentatively slated for the November 2012 ballot.
- Undersecretary Scott Kernan retired Friday
The past 13 months have been difficult for California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Last year, a new lethal injection facility was built in San Quentin. The state spent just over $800,000 building it in response to the allegation that it’s method of lethal injection was cruel and unusual punishment.
Fast-forward to May of 2011: The U.S. Supreme Court ruling to decrease the prison population led to the creation of a coordinated shift of prisoners to county jails, a plan called realignment, which just recently kicked into gear. The plan, in essence, is the largest prison overhaul in the department’s history.
In July and October of this year, the CDCR faced another crisis. Prisoners staged hunger strikes at Pelican Bay State Prison that spread to 13 facilities and involved over 6,000 inmates. All were protesting harsh prison conditions in the state’s highly restrictive security housing units.
In the middle of all these unfolding events was the man who oversees operations for the CDCR. Or he did, that is, until retiring just last week. Former CDCR Undersecretary Scott Kernan’s last day was this past Friday. He was second in command at the department, overseeing all of the facilities and institutions including 33 adult prisons in the state.
In full disclosure, Scott Kernan happens to be related to KALW’s News Director, Holly Kernan. The former undersecretary left his post after almost 30 years working in California corrections. A few days before he retired, reporter Nancy Mullane sat down with Kernan to discuss how he got interested in working with prisons.
Natasha Minsker speaks at San Francisco's City Hall on Tuesday morning.
By Julia Lundberg
This morning, outside San Francisco’s City Hall, a campaign launched to gather enough signatures to place an initiative on the ballot in November 2012 that would replace the death penalty with life without parole.
This coming week SAFE California (“Savings, Accountability, and Full Enforcement for California Act”) will tour San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego to gather signatures and inform people about the price justice and the community pay for the death penalty.
Among the speakers were law enforcement leaders, families of victims, and exonerated persons. One of them was Lorrain Taylor whose two sons, Albade and Obadiah, were gunned down in 2000 at the age of 22. In the clip above, Lorrain talks about why she is signing the petition.
With Federal District Judge Jeremy Fogel taking off on a leave of absence, a new judge will take the helm of California’s long-running lawsuit over capital punishment. Fogel will leave his position, at least temporarily, to head up the Federal Judicial Center in Washington D.C. Judge Richard Seeborg, based in the district court branch in San Francisco, will take over the case
Fogel–previously best known as a brilliant technology patent law judge–has presided over the case since it began in 2006. In 29 years as a judge, Fogel has said the case is the most challenging he’s handled. “It brings all of your dimensions as a person into play,” he told the Recorder, a legal newspaper. From the emotions the issue provokes, to the politics, to the fact that there’s so little existing law to look to, there are challenges he said. “It’s very humbling to have that type of responsibility,” he told the paper.
A legislative attempt to end the death penalty is on hold.
If yesterday’s news is any indication, the legislature is not looking to make any big leaps towards reversing California’s tough sentencing laws any time soon. Two reform bills met their end (or at least major roadblocks) yesterday: Senator Loni Hancock’s effort to end the death penalty, and Senator Leland Yee’s ongoing attempt to allow the possibility of parole to inmates who were sentenced to life in prison as children.
Since 1978, California juries have sentenced about 800 convicts to death — of which only 13 have actually been executed. The rest either continue to wait on Death Row, or have already died of other causes. Meanwhile, California taxpayers have spent over $4 billion on administering a death penalty that, critics say, exists only on paper. What explains the delays — and the high cost? In a new report, the ACLU of Northern California provides a partial answer:
[Death Row] inmates are housed in single cells unlike other prisoners, and there are significant security costs. Death penalty trials cost up to 20 times more than trials for life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. In fact, death sentences are handed down after two trials, instead of one [a guilt phase and a penalty phase]. Taxpayers are legally required to pay for numerous appeals in death penalty cases, unlike cases involving life without possibility of parole, where the prisoner gets only one taxpayer funded appeal. In California, the average time between conviction and execution is now more than 25 years. This figure is likely to get even longer with budget pressures and challenges to the state’s lethal injection procedure.
I say this is only a partial answer because other states face similar structural and constitutional constraints, yet manage to carry out executions at a regular pace. For instance, this year alone, Texas has already executed seven prisoners with several more scheduled this summer. How does the Texas legal system move so much more quickly than ours? That would take a lot longer than a blog post to answer fully, but one reason is that Texas has historically been more tolerant of sloppy lawyering in capital cases. Then too, Texas doesn’t have to answer to the Ninth Circuit, the federal appeals court with jurisdiction over the West. Continue reading