LOS ANGELES - Two years after executions in California came to a sudden stop, a state commission will meet in Los Angeles to examine flaws in our death penalty system. The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice will hold the second of three statewide hearings that could lead to sweeping changes in capital punishment in this state.
A federal judge halted executions on Feb. 21, 2006, over concerns about the cruelty of lethal injection procedures. Since then, New Jersey's legislature voted to end capital punishment in that state. New York also abandoned the death penalty after that state's highest court concluded the law was flawed. Just last week, Nebraska's Supreme Court threw out that state's only method of execution, the electric chair. In those states, arguments put forth by family members of murder victims have helped persuade elected officials to support ending the death penalty.
The hearing is Wednesday, February 20, 2008, from 9:30 am to 4 pm in the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Hearing Room, Hall of Administration, 500 West Temple Street, Los Angeles, California. Family members of murder victims in the Los Angeles region will tell the Commission that alternatives - such as life without parole - allow families members to move on with their lives, rather than endure decades of appeals.
Other experts will argue that permanent incarceration is far less expensive when compared to the sum of costs associated with the legal defense, trials and housing that are part of the death row system. Major issues with the death penalty include:
- Innocent people face risk of execution: The Commission has identified serious problems with eyewitness procedures, coercive interrogation techniques, and other issues that lead to the conviction of innocent people.
- Serious racial disparities in who is sentenced to die: A person whose victim is white is three times more likely to be sentenced to die than a person whose victim is African-American and four times more likely than a person whose victim is Latino.
- Major geographic differences in sentencing: The vast majority of California counties have stopped pursuing the death penalty. Just 10 counties account for more than 80 percent of the death sentences since 2000.
- High costs: The death penalty is 3 times more expensive compared to permanent incarceration, where serious offenders are sentenced to die in prison.
- Under-funded defense counsel representing poor defendants.
- Juries that do not represent the community.
'California's death penalty is unfair, unjust and ineffective,' said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California. 'There is one effective solution to all of these problems: Replace the death penalty with permanent incarceration.'
The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice was created by the California Senate in 2004 to investigate the causes of wrongful conviction and wrongful executions, and to recommend reforms to make California's criminal justice system 'just, fair and accurate.'
Chaired by John Van de Kamp, who previously served as Attorney General and District Attorney of Los Angeles, the Commission includes a cross-section of criminal justice professionals: prosecutors, sheriffs, and police chiefs, sit with defense attorneys, judges and citizens.
For more information about the hearing, visit the Commission website at www.ccfaj.org.
The Commission's first hearing took place January 10 in Sacramento, and the last one will be at Santa Clara University on March 28.