FEATURED POST

America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

California DAs should consider Florida state attorney's approach to death penalty

California's death row, San Quentin prison
California's death row, San Quentin prison
A new Florida State Attorney, Aramis Ayala, made a bold move when she recently announced that capital punishment is "not in the best interest of the community or the best interest of justice," and vowed not to seek the death penalty in future cases.

In taking this courageous stand, Ayala recognizes that the death penalty is a false promise to victims' families and the community. She joins other newly elected prosecutors across the nation who are no longer pushing for a policy that is tremendously costly, arbitrarily doled out and risky in its implementation. The death penalty is deeply flawed, and its use and support continue to dwindle nationwide.

California district attorneys should take a cue from their colleague in Florida and review and reconsider their support of this outdated policy.

Voters deserve to feel that their elected prosecutors actually listen to them. Last year, a majority of voters in 15 California counties supported Proposition 62, which would have repealed the state's death penalty. In Los Angeles, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, Humboldt, Marin, Mendocino, Monterey, San Francisco, Alpine, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Sonoma and Yolo counties, California voters supported replacing the death penalty with the sentence of life in prison.

And it's not just the voters. There are many other signs that the death penalty in California should be dismantled once and for all. It's broken beyond repair.

California has not had an execution in more than 10 years because of legal challenges and difficulty acquiring drugs. The state has spent a decade unsuccessfully trying to create a legally sound lethal injection protocol. Corrections officials also have no means to acquire safe or reliable lethal injection drugs because pharmaceutical companies refuse to allow their lifesaving medicine to be used to execute people.

Proposition 66, which falsely promised to resume executions and was narrowly approved by the voters, is tied up in lawsuits because it is so deeply flawed legally and practically.

Fortunately, there is a viable alternative that is already available to prosecutors: life in prison without the possibility of parole. It is a severe punishment and ensures a lifetime behind bars. No one who has been sentenced to life without parole in California has been released, except those who were able to prove their innocence. The nation has evolved past the death penalty, and it's time for prosecutors to follow suit.

California's district attorneys have the power to reject this costly and failed policy. They can and should use their discretion to do what the Florida state attorney did: stop sending new people to our state's overflowing death row and take a stand against this failed government program.

The voters across California have shown that this is a decision they would support. It's time our district attorneys be the leaders we elected them to be.

Source: Sacramento Bee, Ana Zamora, March 22, 2017. Ana Zamora is criminal justice policy director at the ACLU of Northern California.

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