Results tagged “Death Penalty”

November 18, 2013

Paula_mitchell.jpgBy Adjunct Professor Paula Mitchell

This op-ed originally appeared on Justia.com.

On November 6, 2012, California voters narrowly defeated Proposition 34, a measure that would have replaced the state's death penalty with the sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) as the state's most severe punishment. Prop 34 failed to pass by about 250,000 votes.

Opponents of Prop 34 used a classic political technique to defeat the measure: fear mongering. They told voters that "instead of justice, killers [would] get lifetime housing/healthcare benefits" if Prop 34 passed. Voters were urged to keep the current system of capital punishment in place to "Protect California." They convinced voters that the death penalty was needed to punish people like "Richard 'The Night Stalker' Ramirez [who] kidnapped, raped, tortured and mutilated 14 people and terrorized 11 more including children and senior citizens."

The voters were duped. On June 17, 2013, after nearly a quarter of a century on death row at great expense to taxpayers, Richard Ramirez died peacefully at Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, California, where he was receiving treatment for B-cell lymphoma.

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November 4, 2013

Paula_mitchell.jpgBy Adjunct Professor Paula Mitchell

This op-ed originally appeared on Justia.com.

Capital punishment in the United States is often considered in terms of its constitutional vulnerability. Does it violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment? Is the delay in the appeal and post-conviction remedy process cruel and unusual? Are condemned inmates provided with adequate representation during capital trials? Is the death penalty evenly applied? These are some of the legal issues at the heart of longstanding legal debates over our use of capital punishment.

But on a more practical level, any debate over the efficacy of the death penalty should also include a discussion of the enormous psychological toll capital punishment takes on jurors, Justices, Governors, and even executioners. These individuals have been speaking out with greater force recently about how it feels when the responsibility of taking the life of another person falls on the shoulders of an individual.

Perhaps that is what Justice John Paul Stevens (Retired) had in mind when he stated last year:

"I really think that in regard to the death penalty . . . I'm not sure that the democratic process won't provide the answers sooner than the court does, because I do think there is a significantly growing appreciation of the basic imbalance in cost-per-person benefit analysis. And the application of the death penalty does a lot of harm, and does really very little good."

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September 24, 2013

Scott-web.jpgBy Adjunct Professor Paula Mitchell

This post originally appeared in the Courts and Procedure section on Verdict by Justia.

When the Supreme Court decided Ryan v. Gonzales earlier this year, it created an interesting dilemma for federal courts in death-penalty states.  The Court held that federal courts are not required to stay habeas corpus proceedings for death row inmates who are mentally incompetent and unable to assist counsel in their post-conviction proceedings.  "Where there is no reasonable hope of competence, a stay is inappropriate and merely frustrates the State's attempts to defend its presumptively valid judgment."  Whether to grant a stay was left to the discretion of the district court.

Typically, a defendant who has been sentenced to death spends decades on death row challenging his conviction and sentence in direct appeals and habeas corpus proceedings, in both state and federal courts.  During that time, it is not uncommon for a condemned inmate to experience a decline in his or her mental competency due to any number of factors, including the mental deterioration that comes with years of living in harsh conditions or in solitary confinement.  Before Gonzales, when capital habeas proceedings were pending before a federal district court, and the inmate (or, "petitioner") was unable to assist his counsel in those proceedings, the district court would frequently "stay" the proceedings to provide the inmate with an opportunity to seek mental health care intended to return him or her to competency so that the petitioner could assist his or her counsel.

After Gonzales, however, federal courts are directed to deny requests for stays in state capital cases where there is "no reasonable hope of competence."  This leads to an absurd result.  Petitioner's counsel will now have to continue pursuing costly habeas corpus litigation of the merits of their mentally incompetent clients' constitutional claims.  If the petitioner's claims are successful and his conviction or sentence or both are reversed, the state will be unable to retry the case in most cases, due to the inmate's lack of competency.  In most states, those petitioners will remain on death row, even though their convictions or sentences were found to be constitutionally infirm and they are entitled to a new trial. And if the state prevails and the federal court upholds the conviction and sentence, those seriously mentally ill inmates will remain on death row, even though the state will in many, if not most, cases never carry out those death sentences because the inmates will not, in all likelihood, ever regain competency and become eligible for execution.  (See Ford v. Wainwright, where the U.S. Supreme Court held that "the Eighth Amendment prohibits a State from carrying out a sentence of death upon a prisoner who is insane.  Whether its aim be to protect the condemned from fear and pain without comfort of understanding, or to protect the dignity of society itself from the barbarity of exacting mindless vengeance, the restriction finds enforcement in the Eighth Amendment.").

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November 5, 2012

Thumbnail image for Levenson2.jpg Professor Laurie Levenson was quoted in a Guernica Magazine story by Casey Michel titled, "California's Death Penalty Decision," published on November 5.

Levenson on what separates this proposition from previous attempts to repeal the death penalty:

"This round's not really about a morality issue--it's a cost issue," says Levenson. "The pitch this time [from the repeal camp] is that when we can't fund our schools, can't fund our highways, why are we funding this program that already has these exorbitant costs?"

To support Levenson's argument, Michel references Adjunct Professor Paula Mitchell's 2011 report on death penalty costs in California.

Michel writes:

"A report from 2011, authored by Judge Arthur Alarcon and Prof. Paula Mitchell, found that switching those on death row to life imprisonments without parole-as Prop 34 would accomplish-would save the state $170 million per year, tallied to $5 billion over the next two decades."

Levenson also spoke about proposition's chances of passing:

"I don't know what's going to happen, but this is the most traction I've seen the death penalty repeal get in decades," Levenson noted. "We can't shorten the process. We can't take shortcuts. There's too much at stake."

Read the full article here.

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October 26, 2012

Professor Laurie Levenson assessed the effectiveness of the death penalty in a recent story about Californai's Prop. 34, which would eliminate the death penalty in the state.

"There is no showing the death penalty does anything good. It's not a deterrent, all it does is suck in money and you would hope the public would say, 'we can we do better with that money,'" she siad.

She continued: "I think it is an emotional response. Emotionally, some people say I think killers have to die, and emotionally some people say I don't want to be killing in the name of the state. Often times that is what the debate comes down to."

Read the complete story.

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