Today's New York Times publishes the editorial, "A Lifetime on California’s Death Row."
In a remarkable ruling overturning the death sentence of Ernest Dewayne Jones, who was sentenced in 1995 for the murder of his girlfriend’s mother, Judge Carney, an appointee of President George W. Bush, pointed out that of the more than 900 people California has sentenced to death since 1978, 13 have been executed. More than 40 percent of the rest have been on death row for at least 19 years, and the backlog is growing.
The judge found that the delays are primarily due not to inmates’ repeated appeals, as is often assumed, but to the state’s own foot-dragging and underfunding of its indigent defense system.
California law provides for an automatic appeal of all death sentences, but it takes three to five years before death-row inmates — all of whom are indigent — are even assigned a lawyer. It takes four more years for the lawyer to go through the voluminous trial record and file an appeal, and two to three years for the State Supreme Court, which hears only 20 to 25 death-penalty appeals per year, to schedule oral arguments.
"A sane ruling on California's crazy execution system," is by the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board.
This page has long argued for the abolition of the death penalty because it is barbaric, inconsistently applied and fallible in its implementation. Another judge has already found California's lethal injection process unconstitutional; the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is crafting a new protocol.
The truth is that the constitutional issues surrounding executions have proved too thorny for political or legal resolution, and so the condemned sit for decades in limbo.
Some might see that as an argument to speed up the process. But the risk of executing the innocent is too high under a speedy system. This ruling, which undoubtedly faces its own protracted journey through the courts, firms up the case for doing away with the death penalty altogether.
Contra Costa Times columnist Byron Williams writes, "Times are changing for California's death penalty."
Carney's ruling is expected to be appealed. But in the words of Bob Dylan, "the times they are a-changin'!" Carney's ruling raises an additional question: How strong is the public mood to maintain a system that beyond appealing to the primordial thirst for revenge has been ineffective by every measure it set?
Carney's decision could create a ripple effect for similar arguments to be made in death penalty appeals nationwide. Hopefully, California and the rest of the nation will reach the age of enlightenment by joining the fraternity of countries like Angola, Mozambique, and Rwanda that see the death penalty for what it is -- an abject failure.
"Cruel and Unusual," is Stacey Nguyen's column in today's Daily Californian.
Anxiety shook me when my fifth-grade teacher assigned us a paragraph on what we thought about Stanley “Tookie” William’s death sentence. Williams, a former leader of the Crips charged with several accounts of first-degree murder, was put on death row in California. In prison, he began writing anti-gang and anti-violence books for children, some of which we had read in class.
Williams became an icon for many activists and leaders, with more than 2,000 attending his funeral. Before his execution, he left behind a recorded message for his mourners. “The war within me is over. I battled my demons and was triumphant,” Williams said in his recording. “Teach them how to avoid our destructive footsteps. Teach them to strive for higher education. Teach them to promote peace and teach them to focus on rebuilding the neighborhoods that you, others and I helped destroy.”
As a fledgling 10-year-old citizen, I had vague intuitions about the dilemma of justice presented before me. Part of me questioned whether it was morally just to penalize murder by executing murder under the thin veil of a bureaucratic procedure. As a young adult, I am more cognizant of the rhetorical moves supporters and opposers of this legal process use, which I explore here.
San Francisco Chronicle syndicated columnist Debra J. Saunders latest is, "The triumph of dubious death-penalty appeals."
A - all bow - federal judge has ruled that California's death penalty is unconstitutional because the state's "dysfunctional administration" has meted out the punishment to more than 900 murderers, but imposed it on "only 13" since 1972. That's too arbitrary, wrote U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney of Santa Ana. Besides, "the slight possibility of death, almost a generation after (killer Ernest Dewayne Jones) was first sentenced, violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment."
And: a "death sentence carefully and deliberately imposed by the jury has been quietly transformed into one no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death."
It doesn't bother Carney that Death Row inmates' lawyers have created that preposterous sentence - remote possibility of death - by slowing the wheels of justice with dubious time-sucking appeals. If appellate attorneys think delays are too painful for their clients, maybe they should curb their appeals.
Earlier coverage of the California death penalty ruling begins at the link.
Judge Cormac Carney's ruling in Jones v. Chappell is available in Adobe .pdf format.