California: With state executions on hold, death penalty foes rethink ballot strategy

California advocates of abolishing the death penalty got a jolt of momentum in March, when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he would not allow any executions to take place while he was in office.
But after trying twice this decade to persuade voters to end capital punishment, they have no plans to go to the ballot again in 2020. Rather than seeking to build on Newsom’s temporary reprieve for Death Row inmates, activists are taking their own pause.
Grappling with the legacy of their two failed initiatives, advocates are reassessing their strategy and retooling their message. Natasha Minsker, a political consultant who has long been involved with abolition efforts, said the governor’s moratorium has given advocates the opportunity to do long-term planning.
“There’s this excitement and energy in our movement that we haven’t had in a long time,” Minsker said.
Newsom’s executive order caught many Californians by surprise. Although he supported the unsuccessful ballot measures to abolish t…

U.S. Supreme Court sends much-needed message to Alabama about how it treats poor defendants charged with capital crimes

The U.S. Supreme Court sent the state of Alabama at least two messages last week when justices ruled against the state in the case of Death Row inmate Cory Maples, who missed a deadline to appeal after his lawyers dropped his case without telling him.

First, the high court made clear the state and courts were wrong in denying Maples his day in court. Maples missed a 42-day window to file an appeal after a state court judge ruled against his claims of ineffectiveness of counsel and other problems at trial. But the missed filing was through no fault of his own. Two pro bono lawyers had abandoned Maples' case without notifying him or the state. Copies of the trial court's order sent to them at their old law firm were returned unopened to the court clerk, who did nothing.

"Abandoned by counsel, Maples was left unrepresented at a critical time for his state postconviction petition, and he lacked a clue of any need to protect himself pro se," the court said in its 7-2 ruling. "In these circumstances, no just system would lay the default at Maples' death-cell door."

But Alabama's system did blame Maples. Which brings us to the court's second, and more important message: Our state's system of capital punishment is not a just system.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who delivered the opinion, made that clear in her criticism of how the state provides -- and in some cases doesn't provide -- lawyers for poor defendants charged with capital crimes.

Source: Editorial, Birmingham News Editorial Board, January 23, 2012

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