The death penalty or capital punishment is a topic that has been hotly debated over the years. In March we discussed death sentences in the state of California, in the wake of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive moratorium. Even though many Californians still favor the practice, Newsom ordered San Quentin State Prison to close the state’s execution chamber.
As we pointed out in the springtime, other states have placed moratoriums on capital punishment. Moreover, many states have passed legislation abolishing the practice.
Gavin Newsom’s move put the state’s criminal justice system in a unique position. The legality of the death penalty was upheld when voters passed Proposition 66 in 2016. Then Newsom essentially said, ‘not on my watch;’ which raises the question, how are death penalty trials to move forward?
An attorney is arguing that his client – who is facing capital punishment – can’t get a fair trial while the moratorium is in effect, according to the Los Angeles Times. It will fall on the California Supreme Court to decide what comes next.
Death Penalty Trials in California
The California Supreme Court has frozen or slowed the death penalty trial of Jade Douglas Harris after his attorney pointed out that a fair decision from jurors is impossible. Newsom’s moratorium granted a reprieve to the more than 700 prisoners on death row. Harris’ public defenders say that jurors must believe that when they opt for the death sentence, it will come to fruition.
“The jury making that order has to really believe it, because if they don’t, they could be cavalier about it and just say: ‘Well, let’s send a message.… We know [the death sentence] is never going to happen, but let’s do it anyway,'” said Robert Sanger, a defense attorney who first made this argument but for an unrelated capital case in Los Angeles County.
The Supreme Court has until August 30, 2019, to decide on taking up the matter, the article reports. It’s worth noting that the Governor’s decision to halt executions only lasts as long as he is in office. Since there has not been an execution in California since 2006, someone could argue that there is no reason death penalty trials cannot move forward throughout the moratorium. The idea is that nobody sentenced today would likely be executed during Newsom’s tenure.
“Newsom’s moratorium only lasts for the duration of his term as Governor. Nobody sentenced today would be executed within the next seven years anyway,” said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. “And everybody pretty much knows that.”
The Criminal Justice Legal Foundation was one of the backers of Prop. 66. The legislation not only kept the practice of capital punishment in place, but it was also designed to speed up executions in California.
Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney
Please contact The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower if you are in legal trouble. Attorney Brower can help you achieve the best possible outcome in your case. With more than three decades of experience, he has the skills to advocate for you effectively.