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A Capital Defense Attorney With The Right Attitude

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Not all capital defense attorneys see themselves as being on a crusade to abolish the death penalty or to throw sand in the gears in the meantime.  David Goodwin has a letter to the editor in the L.A. Times in reaction to a column by George Skelton:

As a criminal defense attorney with four capital cases, I agree with Skelton that the death penalty system is broken. Here's a radical idea: Fix it.

Skelton is right that Gov. Jerry Brown and Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, both lifelong death penalty foes, will do nothing to fix the system. It is unethical for them not to zealously enforce the law just because they don't like it. Unable to win at the ballot box, the opponents win by obstruction and refusing to do the job they are obligated to do.

Someday a governor may be in office who does not like certain environmental protections or civil rights statutes. If that happens, I hope it is remembered where the precedent arose that the executive need not do the public's bidding.

We need more with attitudes like Goodwin's.  Specifically, we need capital defense lawyers who will do their duty as advocates to make the best case for their assigned client but who will not delay, obstruct, or bury the courts with patently meritless pleadings.  (See In re Reno, 55 Cal. 4th 428 (2012).)  Capital cases should be just like noncapital cases in this regard.  A lawyer assigned an appeal for a rapist sentenced to prison is not on a crusade to abolish imprisonment.  He just makes the case that his particular client shouldn't have been convicted or shouldn't have been sentenced to as much time as he got.

Retired prosecutors might be good candidates to step up and take capital appeals and state habeas petitions.  Any takers?

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