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Is California’s Death Penalty At A Crossroads?

Guests: State Senator Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon)

Jan Stiglitz, Professor, California Western School of Law


A September 2011 Field Poll of California voters found interesting results about people's support for the death penalty.

While 68 percent of voters favor retaining the death penalty for serious crimes, 48 percent of voters said they would prefer the state issue sentences of life in prison without parole over the death penalty. Forty percent said they prefer the death penalty.

State Senator Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon) has introduced a bill that would speed up the death penalty process by eliminating the automatic appeals that are currently heard only by the California Supreme Court.

He has also proposed an amendment to the California Constitution that would allow appeals to be heard by the State Court of Appeals.

In an interview for KPBS Television's "Evening Edition," Anderson said his bill is aimed at speeding up the death penalty process only for the most extreme cases, when it is clear the accused murderer is guilty.

“We don’t want to execute people who are innocent," he said. "We’re not talking about your average murders, we’re talking about the most heinous murders, the serial killers where there’s overwhelming evidence.”

Anderson added that everyone would still go through a federal appeals process, and said if there are "extenuating circumstances," the accused would still go through the state appeals process.

“We’re not eliminating the appeal, we’re just saying if you have a knife in your hand, you kill 10 people, we have it on video tape and you admit that you did it, you can’t tie up and slow down the process,” he said.

While the SAFE campaign has turned in 800,000 signatures for a November ballot initiative eliminating the death penalty, Anderson would not say whether he would support replacing death penalty sentences with life in prison without parole.

The death penalty in California has traveled a bumpy road. The U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1972. There were no executions for 20 years, until the 1992 execution of San Diego murderer Robert Alton Harris. In the years since, lethal injection became the method used to put prisoners to death. That process ran into trouble when no doctors would administer the drugs.

There have been no executions in California since 2006. Albert Greenwood Brown, a sexual predator and murderer, was to be put to death in September 2010. The execution was stayed because of the limited supply of drugs for lethal injection.

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