Monday, November 07, 2016

Election oddments: part 5 -- a cog wants out of the death machine


Four years ago on the eve of the election, I was working to pass an initiative that would end California's death penalty and replace it with sentences of life without parole for the most serious crimes. (Then and now, this required a voter measure because our death penalty was made law by an initiative back in 1978. That's why we continue to see these initiatives.) That effort failed narrowly and the question is back as Proposition 62 this year. Let's hope we end premeditated killing by the state this year.

Nobody outside of death row knows more about the death penalty than the attorneys who, year after year, work to give condemned people quality legal representation. Andy Love has described his more than thirty year career trying to do that job right in a searing article in the LA Progressive.

... But it was all too rare that the cases were decided on their actual merits.  Instead, years were spent litigating procedural issues to determine whether legal claims could even be considered at all.

I lost a case despite establishing that the trial lawyer was so debilitated by alcohol that he needed a time out before resuming his representation — although when he did it was too late to investigate and present the powerfully sympathetic life history evidence that most likely would have persuaded the jury to vote to spare his client’s life.  I won a case in which an African American juror who was holding out for a not guilty verdict was kicked off the jury for “failing to deliberate.”  That one took 15 years despite the obviousness of the judge’s error.

...Who gets a death sentence and who is ultimately executed is an arbitrary and unreliable process, based far more on factors of race, on the political leanings of prosecutors and the quality of defense counsel than on the nature of the crime or the character of the defendant.  ...  It is a machine in which the legal procedures one needs to navigate in order to have claims meaningfully considered by the courts are all but impenetrable.  And it is a machine that simply can no longer function — overwhelmed by far too many cases and not enough qualified lawyers to handle them — it takes several decades to reach a resolution, more often because the inmate has died of suicide or what are referred to as “natural causes.”  ... It is far past time to tear the machine down.

He's seen his clients die; he knows whereof he speaks. Worth reading, even if you think you already know all this. I spent over a year working daily to move Californians away from capital punishment and yet found more to absorb here.

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