9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chips Away at Executions in California

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Although California voters chose to keep the death penalty on the books in November, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals continues to chip away at the ordered executions of convicted criminals. The latest case is the conviction of a killer who was sentenced to death in 1980 for the murder of a 15-year-old child, the Mercury News reports.

Why does the appeals court believe that the death penalty conviction should be set aside in this case?

Arguing that the defendant was kept in shackles for the duration of his jury trial, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals claims that this treatment unduly influenced the jury to give a guilty verdict. While the judges are suggesting that this type of treatment "undermined the dignity of the judicial process," the state's attorney general argues that keeping the prisoner in shackles may have been a mistake but did not actually affect the ultimate jury verdict.

How many death row prisoners does California have at this time?

There are currently 728 Californians on death row. About 12 of these inmates have been on death row for three decades or more.

What is the reputation of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals?

As noted by the Los Angeles Times, this appeals court has the reputation of being extremely liberal. At the same time, the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned 19 of 26 decisions handed down by 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges. The publication notes that the higher court criticized the appeals court's "stubborn refusal" to follow the precedents that were already set.

Do Californians want the death penalty?

A small majority of Californians favor the death penalty. When the abolition of the death penalty was up for a vote in November via Proposition 34, which would have converted existing death penalty verdicts to life in prison without parole, the measure lost by 6 percent. At the time, the Mercury News quoted opponents of the proposition as stating that Golden State residents had "sent a clear message that the death penalty should still be implemented for those who commit the most heinous and unthinkable crimes." The other side argues that a 6 percent margin does not constitute a "mandate" and therefore the discussion about the death penalty in California will be ongoing.

Does the death penalty have fiscal implications for the Golden State?

While Safe California, which supported Proposition 34, argued that California's death penalty law is expensive for the state and abolition would "save well over $100 million every year," the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation claims that having it on the books actually saves the state money. By enticing defendants to plead guilty to lesser charges if the death penalty is taken off the table, the group argues that the state saves the costs associated with lengthy jury trials.

Sylvia Cochran is a Los Angeles area resident with a firm finger on the pulse of California politics. Talk radio junkie, community volunteer and politically independent, she scrutinizes the good and the bad from both sides of the political aisle.

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