In other news...California death penalty ruled unconstitutional
A federal judge declared California's death penalty unconstitutional Wednesday, saying delays of 25 years or more in deciding appeals and carrying out occasional executions have created an arbitrary and irrational system that serves no legitimate purpose.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney [W Bush appointee - Tif] of Santa Ana was limited to a single case and had no immediate impact on executions statewide, which have been halted by federal courts since 2006 because of multiple problems in lethal injection procedures.
It is interesting to note that in his ruling he expressly refutes the commonly believed notion that the lengthy delays between sentencing and execution (often more than 25 year in CA) are the result of systemic abuses by defense attorneys filing motion after motion and endlessly appealing. Rather, he says that the cause of the delays are completely inherent in the system itself. For example, it can take 3-5 years simply for a qualified public defender to be appointed to the case. CA has some onerous restrictions on who can represent capital defendants through the appellate process; one attorney called into a radio show this morning and said that he has over 20 years experience as a prosecutor and defender and has been involved in over 40 capital cases.... but he is not qualified to shepherd a capital appeal in CA. After that, it can take 14 years for the CA Supreme Court to even hear the case. There have been nearly 100 people die on death row of natural causes or suicide in the time since capital punishment was reinstated, while only 13 people have actually been executed.
Also of note, the host of that radio show is a PA native and practicing (civil) attorney. He pointed out that since capital punishment was reinstated in the 70s, there have only been three people executed in PA.... and all three of those voluntarily ended their appeals to go to their deaths. The last time a person who was contesting their sentence was executed in PA was in the 1960s.