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Dubious California Death Penalty Report Due Today

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The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice plans to release its report on the death penalty today. The press release is here. The circumstances of this commission's creation and its actions to date do not bode well for anyone hoping for a fair, balanced report.

The commission was created by former California Senate leader John Burton, a dyed-in-the-wool opponent of the death penalty. Normally, commissions are set up by legislation through the standard process of bicameral approval plus governor's signature. Burton set up his commission by a unilateral resolution of the Senate alone, Senate Resolution 44 of 2004. This unique mode of creation enabled him to keep the appointments entirely in the hands of the Senate Rules Committee, which is firmly under the control of the left wing-tip of the Democratic Party.

The commission promptly retained as its executive director Dean Gerald Uelmen of Santa Clara U. Law, a well-known partisan for the anti-death-penalty side of the debate. If they had intentionally wanted to undermine their credibility as a fair review, they could scarcely have made a better choice.

The commission has funded various people to do research on the administration of the death penalty in California. All but one of the contracts went to anti-death-penalty academics. The one exception was a feasibility study on costs by Rand Corporation, and that study produced no firm conclusions.

Update: The report is now online here. I have extracted the dissent and posted it here. Here is the first paragraph:

We respectfully dissent from the Report and Recommendations on the Administration of the Death Penalty in California, which was issued today by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. Regrettably, we believe the majority report indirectly assaults California’s death penalty by seeking to undermine public confidence in our capital punishment law and procedure. While the majority refrains from making specific recommendations to weaken this voter approved law, the tone and unbalanced discussion of potential reform is anything but neutral. By doing so, the majority exceeds the scope of its original charge and unfortunately, diminishes the value of other worthwhile recommendations.

2 Comments

Uh, Kent - Did you read the report or do you just assume any study of the death penalty is wrong on its face? Here's the crux of the CCFAJ position on the death penalty:

"The Commission does not view its charge in Senate Resolution No. 44 as calling for a judgment on the morality of the death penalty. The Commissioners hold a broad spectrum of divergent views on the death penalty, some of which are reflected in individual statements attached to this report.

"After careful study, the Commission finds itself in full agreement with California Chief Justice Ronald M. George in his conclusion that California’s death penalty system is dysfunctional. The system is plagued with excessive delay in the appointments of counsel for direct appeals and habeas corpus petitions, and a severe backlog in the review of appeals and habeas petitions before the California Supreme Court. Ineffective assistance of counsel and other claims of constitutional violations are succeeding in federal courts at a very high rate. Thus far, federal courts have rendered final judgment in 54 habeas corpus challenges to California death penalty judgments. Relief in the form of a new guilt trial or a new penalty hearing was granted in 38 of the cases, or 70%."

Resulting from this critique, most of the recommendations in the report were about how to SPEED UP the process. Do you really oppose that or think it "undermines public confidence" to discuss how it should happen?

With respect, this post illustrates why I despise death penalty debates. It's typical for all sides to make assumptions like yours that poison any constructive conversation before it can start.

You want delays shortened. You want fewer cases overturned by the feds. But then you charge anyone discussing how to make that happen with undermining the system. That's fine if your position, or your group's, is simply pro-status quo, but please don't then complain about excessive delays, last minute appeals, etc., if you're dismissing all efforts to fix the problem.

Yes, of course I read the report. Did you read my post? The initial post, written before the report was released, was a warning based on the circumstances of this commission's creation. The update, posted after the report's release, is simply a quote from the dissent. The "undermine public confidence" phrase is part of that quote.

In any case, I do not "charge anyone discussing how to make that happen with undermining the system," nor did I make the "assumptions" that you assume. I do charge this commission with accepting uncritically the testimony it received that supported its predetermined agenda and ignoring contrary evidence.

The passage citing Ninth Circuit reversals that you quote is typical. It simply assumes that the notorious Ninth is correct in its judgments, when everyone paying attention knows that this court is very often wrong, and the large number of cases reversed by the Supreme Court are just the tip of the iceberg.

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