Articles Tagged with capital punishment

The Texas Attorney Generals’ Office issued an opinion in July that effectively halts the Texas Forensic Science Commission’s investigation of the Cameron Todd Willingham case. Mr. Willingham was executed in 2004 after he was convicted of arson and murder in a 1991 fire that killed his three children. In 2009, the Texas Forensic Science Commission reported findings from a nationally recognized arson scientist that criticized and called into question the arson investigation and findings at trial. The investigation has been profiled nationwide,  with excellent coverage by the New Yorker and PBS’ Frontline (which my colleague Ken reviewed last year).
Continue reading →

California State Senator Loni Hancock (D-Alameda) recently introduced Senate Bill 490, which seeks to abolish the death penalty in California. This is the first time that the California Legislature has considered the issue of capital punishment since the current statute was enacted in 1978.

After Gregg vs. Georgia reinstated capital punishment nationwide, California voters approved the current death penalty law in a referendum. To amend that law, SB 490 must be approved by the voters because state law mandates that referendums can only be repealed at the ballot box.

If California voters approve SB 490, first-degree murder with one or more special circumstances will be punished by life without the possibility of parole. The death penalty option would no longer be available. Additionally, the state would halt future executions and commute all existing death sentences to life without parole.

The impetus for this effort comes from a Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review article authored by U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Senior Judge Arthur L. Alarcon and Loyola Law School Los Angeles Adjunct Professor of Law Paula M. Mitchell. Their study contended that the abolition of capital punishment in California could save the state $1 billion dollars every five or six years. The study also found that “the state’s 714 death row prisoners cost $184 million more per year than those sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.”

Don Heller, the author of the original enacting initiative, supports Senator Hancock’s bill. Heller has since come to “fervently believe” that capital punishment should be abolished. He says that when the law was drafted in 1978, his office grossly underestimated the costs to the state. He argues that each execution since the death penalty was reinstated under that law has cost the state $330 million, and it’s simply not worth it. It should be noted that the American Law Institute, which promulgates the Model Penal Code (upon which many states base their own statutes), has also reversed its position, taking capital punishment out of the model code.

Continue reading →

Before the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice (CCFAJ), then California Chief Justice Ronald George testified that “California’s death penalty system is dysfunctional.” A review of year-end statistics certainly confirms the former Chief Justice’s conclusion.

While the death penalty appears to be waning across the country, California remains somewhat of an outlier. In 2010, California courts sentenced 34 persons to death, which accounted for nearly a third of of the death judgments nationwide. And within the state, Los Angeles County, Riverside County and Orange County have become, as the ACLU put it, “killer counties.” They accounted for 83% of the death sentences in 2009, while representing 41% of the population. That year, Los Angeles County sentenced more people to death than any other state, much less any other California county. Of the 34 death cases, almost 62% were from these three counties.

Continue reading →

A bill to abolish the death penalty in Illinois has cleared the House and the Senate, and is now in front of Governor Pat Quinn for approval. If he signs this bill, Illinois will become the 16th state to ban capital punishment.

You can view the bill on the Illinois General Assembly Site. From the synopsis, the bill:

“Amends the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963. Abolishes the death penalty. Provides that all unobligated and unexpended moneys remaining in the Capital Litigation Trust Fund shall be transferred into the Death Penalty Abolition Fund, a special fund in the State treasury, to be expended by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, subject to appropriation, for services for families of victims of homicide or murder and for training of law enforcement personnel. Amends the State Finance Act to create the Fund. Repeals the Capital Crimes Litigation Act. Provides for severability.”

Continue reading →