Two California Supreme Court justices have joined the debate against capital punishment.
“California’s death penalty is an expensive and dysfunctional system that does not deliver justice or closure in a timely manner, if at all,” Justice Goodwin Liu wrote in a published opinion.
The opinion upheld the death sentence of Thomas Potts, convicted of two murders in 1998. Liu’s opinion was cosigned by Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, the San Francisco Chronicle reported March 28.
Liu noted the California execution moratorium imposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom and said it should be a signal for a renewed examination of capital punishment.
Justice Goodwin Liu wrote that he has voted to affirm many death sentences and would “continue to do so when the law requires,” reported the San Francisco Chronicle.
Liu wrote,” I express no view here on the morality or constitutionality of the death penalty,” then derided “the promise of justice in our death penalty system” as “a promise that California has been unable to keep.” He also said the 2016 Proposition 66 initiative aimed at speeding up executions “promised more than the system can deliver.”
Proposition 66, upheld by the courts, limited prisoner appeals and prohibition on regulatory review of one- drug lethal injections. But then the courts rejected its five-year deadline for deciding appeals in state court as being unfeasible and unconstitutional. Liu said the ballot measure’s goal could not be met unless California devotes “considerable additional resources to its judicial branch.”
The opinions were challenged by Kent Scheidegger, a death penalty advocate and legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento. He said other states handle death penalty appeals faster and less expensively, California could follow their example by limiting successive appeals.
Pending in the state Legislature is a measure that would place another death penalty repeal on the November 2020 ballot. A poll by the Public Policy Institute found 62 % of adults surveyed said they would prefer a life-without-parole sentence instead of death for first-degree murder.
Former Chief Justice Ronald George said in his 2013 memoir that the death penalty system “places the ad- ministration of justice… in a very bad light” because of its costs, delays and overall ineffectiveness.
After the governor of Washington declared a moratorium on executions, the state’s Supreme Court struck down Washington’s death penalty law on the grounds it was used in an arbitrary and racially discriminatory manner.