University of Southern California

Would Californians Have the Courage of Their Convictions in the Face of a Fully Functioning Death Penalty?

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Postscript (Response) by Jean Rosenbluth
November, 2007

Responding to Judge Arthur L. Alarcón, Remedies for California’s Death Row Deadlock, 80 S. Cal. L. Rev. 697 (2007).

Californians overwhelmingly support the death penalty, we are told. In the most recent Field Poll, conducted in 2006, nearly two-thirds of the State’s denizens expressed support for this harshest of penalties when imposed for the most serious crimes. But I wonder if their support is something like my opposition: as lukewarm as the Chinese food I had delivered last night. Perhaps they, like I, have formed their views and the depth of their attachment to them in the abstract, given how few executions actually take place in this State. As my father, a fellow Californian, used to say, “I oppose the death penalty, but it’s about last on my list of things to worry about.” Perhaps if it were more than an “illusion,” as Judge Kozinski has called the death penalty, I and others might be more concerned.

If Judge Arthur Alarcón of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has his way, Californians may be forced to reevaluate their views on the subject in the face of a fully functioning death penalty. Judge Alarcón wants to greatly speed up the review process in death penalty cases; the nearly eighteen-year average delay between when a defendant is sentenced to death and the date the sentence is carried out effectively means that the death penalty is only rarely implemented in this State. As Judge Alarcón notes in Remedies for California’s Death Row Deadlock, in the May 2007 issue of the Southern California Law Review, a condemned prisoner is four times as likely to die in prison of natural or other causes as he is to have his death sentence carried out.

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