Articles Tagged with death penalty

A juror who tweeted during a murder trial, and while he and his fellow jurors deliberated, led the Arkansas Supreme Court to reverse the conviction of a 26-year-old death row inmate.

While there were other factors that led the court to send the case back for a new trial, the tweets played a key role in its decision.

We’re not talking about a one time tweet either. The juror was a consistent, repeat offender who ignored the trial judge’s jury instructions even before opening statements about the case. He just couldn’t shake the Twitter bird off his back.
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I recently blogged about a roadblock in the Cameron Todd Willingham investigation; specifically, the Texas Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion that the examination was outside the scope of the Texas Forensic Science Commission’s investigative authority. Incendiary, a new documentary about the case, is opening across the United States. Incendiary chronicles the original investigation, trial and subsequent investigation by the Commission. It provides an extraordinary look into the Commission proceedings, the science and the defense attorney’s perspective.  It picks up where Frontline left off, going even deeper into this long and complicated investigation.

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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 To amend that law, SB 490 must be approved by the voters because state law mandates that referendums can only be repealed at the ballot box.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.

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On Monday, the Supreme Court released its 6-3 decision in Skinner v. Switzer. Skinner was convicted of capital murder in Texas, and sought to compel DNA testing to prove his innocence. Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Chapter 64 bars defendants who did not request testing at trial from doing so post-conviction. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether the defendant may seek access to the testing in federal court under 42 USC 1983, or whether that remedy was only available through a writ of habeas corpus under 28 USC 2254.

The Court held that federal courts have jurisdiction to hear the defendant’s complaint in a Section 1983 civil rights action. Defendant neither was seeking “speedier” release from custody in the action, nor was he challenging a Texas court’s ruling on merits. He was only challenging their interpretation of the law. This ruling allows the federal court subject matter jurisdiction over the defendants’ claim–it does not reach the merits. Defense attorneys are pleased with this ruling because it “slays the procedural dragons” that inhibit petitioners’ efforts toward exoneration in federal court.

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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.

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It’s February 1st, and we at Justia are happy to report that in January members of our Onward and Facebook communities not only stopped by to visit us, you also liked us, and sometimes, you really, really liked us.

Our heavy hitter in January on the Onward Blog in terms of visits was Courtney’s post on the Online Blue Book – looks like there are more than a few people out there who like to get their inner citation geek on. I encourage anyone who hasn’t already to check out Courtney’s analysis and review of The Blue Book’s online features and also catch a glimpse of one of our Justia pugs, Sheba, giving a shout out to vendor-neutral citation.  Other popular posts this month included our Legal Predictions for 2011 and some thoughts on our shock over California’s new menu labeling laws (note: watch out for the 400+ calorie scones at Starbucks).
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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.”

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Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, but there’s still time to get terrific gifts for lawyers and clients.  Here are some of our favs:


  • The Apple iPad —  It’s sleek, small, and über cool. It holds nifty free legal apps like Fastcase to find state and federal statutes and cases and Oyez’s PocketJustice that let’s lawyers listen to Supreme Court oral arguments.  When your attorney friend is done raging at opposing counsel’s latest outrageous offer to their client, the attorney can vent his or her anger by playing Angry Birds or Star Wars Falcon Gunner. Plus, it makes them (and everyone they meet) think that they’re a swell lawyer, right?
  • Adopt a Volume of the Federal Reporter — No, we’re not crazy (at least not all the time)!  For $1,200, you can actually make a tax-deductible donation to Public.Resource.Org to support scanning a volume or two of the first series of the Federal Reporter of the United States in the name of your favorite lawyer or law firm.  The donation is to help them “adopt” a volume of federal case law  from 1880 – 1924 that is now in the public domain.
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