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A Death Row "Volunteer" in California?

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In capital litigation parlance, a "volunteer" is an inmate sentenced to death who drops his appeals and accepts his punishment.

Yesterday, the California Supreme Court decided the direct appeal in the case of Corey Williams, S093756.  The opinion notes that Williams chose to represent himself in the penalty phase and put on no mitigating evidence.  The opinion does not mention that nearly ten years ago Williams asked the court to fire his attorney and drop his appeal, and the court refused.

The California Supreme Court has interpreted (incorrectly, IMHO) the "automatic appeal" statute to preclude abandoning an appeal in a capital case.  That raises constitutional issues on the scope of the judicial power, cf. Comer v. Schriro, 480 F.3d 960 (CA9 2007), but to date they are sticking with it.

The court also requires the involuntary appellant to accept appointed counsel and permits counsel to argue against the client's stated goal, raising a thorny professional ethics issue the court has not addressed.

But all of this ends with the conclusion of the direct appeal.  Certainly a mentally competent inmate can "volunteer" at that point if he chooses to do so.  Has Williams changed his mind in the interim?  I don't know.  If not, can the existing injunctions against use of California's present protocol be applied in the case of someone who does not want them applied?  An interesting question.

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Litigation is a contest between two parties. Courts are not policy-creating bodies; they exist to resolve a dispute between the litigants. Where there is no dispute, the courts have no role (this is the purpose of the case-and-controversy requirement in the federal Constitution).

Example: The most illegal search in the history of searches is of no moment if the defendant agrees, as part of a plea bargain he regards as a sweet deal overall, not to contest it. It wouldn't matter if the cops broke down the door with a tank.

For these reasons, a volunteer -- i.e., someone who agrees with the "opposing" party that the exectution should go forward -- should not be frustrated by the courts. Where there is no controversy between the parties, the courts have no role.

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