San Franciscans could make death penalty ruling stick

The lethal injunction chamber at San Quentin Prison is rarely used, and it could be abolished forever.

In the wake of yesterday’s [Wed/16] judicial ruling that California’s death penalty system is unconstitutional — with federal District Judge Cormac Carney calling it arbitrary and so subject to endless delay that it “serves no penological purpose” — San Franciscans could play a key role in converting the ruling into an abolition of capital punishment.

Right now, the ruling applies only to the execution of Ernest Dewayne Jones, who was sentenced to death in 1995 for a rape and murder, and not all 748 inmates now on Death Row in California. But yesterday’s ruling would end the death penalty in California if appealed to and upheld by the SF-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The decision about whether to file that appeal and possibly a subsequent appeal to the US Supreme Court falls to Attorney General Kamala Harris, who has maintained her opposition to capital punishment since her days as San Francisco’s district attorney, where she bravely endured lots of political heat for refusing to file capital murder charges in the death of San Francisco Police Officer Isaac Espinoza.  

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi today issued a public statement praising yesterday’s ruling and calling for Harris not to appeal it: “Today’s ruling, which found California’s death penalty unconstitutional, is a monumental victory for justice. I commend U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney for his courage and wisdom. Not only is the death penalty arbitrarily imposed, as the judge noted, its history is fraught with racial bias and haunted by the hundreds of death row inmates who were later exonerated. I am hopeful that California Attorney General Kamala Harris will choose not to appeal this decision.” 

Harris spokesperson David Beltran told the Guardian that she hasn’t yet made a decision whether to appeal the case: “We are reviewing the ruling.”

Yet former Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti, who worked with SF-based Death Penalty Focus on the 2012 initiative campaign to repeal the death penalty (losing by less than 4 percentage points), told the Guardian that Harris has a tough choice to make.

“It’s an interesting decision. If the Attorney General doesn’t appeal it, then it applies just to this case, period,” Garcetti told us.

Although appeals in other cases could cite the logic of yesterday’s ruling, it has no precedent value unless affirmed by the Ninth Circuit. And Garcetti called Carney’s ruling “a pretty persuasive decision” that could be easily be affirmed, depending on which judges are assigned to the case. If so, that ruling would end the death penalty in California, just as 17 other states have already done.   

“The more interesting question is whether she would then appeal that ruling [to the US Supreme Court],” Garcetti said.

California voters have affirmed their support for the death penalty three times at the ballot, but those results and public opinion polling show that support for executions has been steadily eroding, in much the same way that generational change has led to overturning bans on same-sex marriage across the country.

Garcetti said he regularly speaks publicly about capital punishment, often to very conservative groups, and he said that the arguments against it have become so strong — including its high cost, racial and class bias, and lack of deterrent effect — that “over 95 percent of [death penalty supporters] change their opinions by the end of my talks.”

As for why the 2012 initiative fell about 250,000 votes short of success, Garcetti said, “We simply ran out of money to get the facts out. Once people hear the facts, it wins them over.”

Carney’s ruling reinforced many of the arguments that opponents have been made against the death penalty, noting that federal guarantees of due process create such long delays that a death sentence has become something “no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.”

Aside from this ruling, California is also currently under a federal moratorium on executing prisoners until it can reform its lethal injection procedures, which a federal judge has said now amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

“Justice requires that we end this charade once and for all,” Death Penalty Focus Executive Director Matt Cherry said in a prepared statement. “It’s time to replace California’s broken death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. That’s the best way to ensure that convicted killers remain behind bars until they die, without wasting tens of millions of tax dollars every year on needless appeals. That’s justice that works, for everyone.”


is FAR more humane than putting people to death quickly. Because prison is such a pleasant environment and people love living their lives out confined with sociopaths and surrounded by violence, squalor and misery.

Are you a sadist Steven? Because your argument is, at its heart, far more sadistic and cruel than is the death penalty.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 5:12 pm

I have no interest in making their lives pleasant, but I also don't think perpetuating cycles of violence is good for society. Hell, give them the means to commit suicide if they want to, an alternative that is far more humane that putting them in special detention cell to prevent suicide so that they don't rob us of the chance to kill them, which just seems sick to me. Besides, the evidence is clear that life in prison without the possibility of parole is cheaper than the death penalty. The only reason for executions is vengeance, and I don't think that an official policy of giving in to such dark human emotions is healthy for society.  

Posted by steven on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 10:11 am

If someone already has a life sentence then they might as well kill everyone in prison whom they dislike, because without the death penalty, there is no more punishment we can give them

Posted by Guest on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 10:58 am

Expounding on what the other "Guest" just said about deterrence. Some years back, the leadership of the Aryan Brotherhood was put on trial for a variety of crimes from murder to drug dealing to extortion. The jury found them guilty on all charges and gave them life without parole. Well gee they can just add that on to the life without parole sentences that they were already serving. Whooopppeeee....

Posted by Guest on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 11:39 am

end capital punishment.

But want to keep the mayor from appointing supervisors in progressives districts because the mayors appointee might not reflect wishes of the voters in those districts?


Posted by comarade X on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 5:35 pm

with them, like meaningless "policy statements" passed in off-year elections. But when the SFBG doesn't agree, like with JROTC and the death penalty, then voters need to be ignored.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 5:48 pm

I'm the editor of a newspaper in San Francisco, where voters overwhelmingly oppose the death penalty, and I'm not going to take my public policy cues from voters in the Central Valley, the rural Northern California, and Orange, Placer, and San Diego counties. 

Posted by steven on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 10:34 am

And people who live just across the county line matter less?

I would remind you that this is BAY Guardian. Do you know what that "BAY" means? Hint: It's not just SF.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 11:00 am

SF progressives like Jones think like right wing Jesus freaks.

The only wrong answer is not agreeing with dogma. How you get to your rationalizations doesn't matter, dogma is king.

Oddly the Guardian advocated for ignoring the wishes of the voters around the JROTC vote by the citizens of the city. When the bicycle lobby went around the voters(where they lost) to the BOS and closed GG Park to auto traffic on Saturdays it was a win. etc...

For Jones getting over is the first priority, justifications come later.

Posted by comarade X on Jul. 19, 2014 @ 3:33 am

He demands zero tolerance for landlords, drivers and businesses that break any law, rule or municipal regulation, no matter how dumb that law is.

But if the "usual suspect" trustafarian protesters break a few laws while expressing their right to free speech by, say, smashing windows or squatting on land, then they should get a pass and law enforcement should be "flexible".

Likewise for bikes ignoring traffic rules, folks smoking pot, or anyone who isn't a straight white male.

He is massively biased which perhaps wouldn't matter if he were writing marketing materials for the socialist party, but he is actually claiming to be doing journalism.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 19, 2014 @ 3:53 am

"Voters in SF overwhelmingly oppose the death penalty"? Can you please source that? Most SF voters I know, support the death penalty.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 11:43 am

state-wide there is a large majority of voters who say that a SF resident who commits certain kinds of crime gets executed.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 12:00 pm

If the voters at large wanted something and Steve Jones was for it then he would be with the voters and against those fat cats up in Sacramento.

There is no wrong answer to true believers, the justifications change with the winds, all that matters is the minute.

Posted by comarade X on Jul. 19, 2014 @ 3:49 am

70% of San Francisco voters supported Prop 34 in 2012 that would have repealed the death penalty. San Franciscans have only elected District Attorneys that have pledged to not seek the death penalty in potentially capital cases for decades.

Posted by marcos on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 1:57 pm
Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2014 @ 12:19 am

that you should just remain silent around this so as not to look so ridiculous.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 1:54 pm

No matter how dumb his words may be, he has to utter them.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2014 @ 12:20 am

Damn, Here I though that they might use them as suicide testers on the bridge

Posted by Guest on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 5:45 pm

David Hill - Murderer of SFPD officer Isaac Espinoza
Edwin Ramos - MS-13 murderer of Tony, Michael, and Matthew Bologna and attempted murderer of Tony's third son and Michael and Matthew's brother
Richard Allen Davis - Rapist murderer of 12 year old Polly Klaas
Jaime Ramos - Norteno who opened fire with an AK at police officers in Stockton and then used Misty Holt-Singh as a human shield to protect himself from police return fire

Give me one good reason why we should pay 40K per year (if they had life without parole) to clothe, house, and feed these maggots for the rest of their miserable lives.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 9:41 pm

He shouldn't be killed because he is good at Origami, according to his lawyer.

Posted by comarade X on Jul. 19, 2014 @ 3:36 am

These sociopaths continue to mock their victims by existing in the relative comfort of prison. Any streamlining of the process should start with streamlining toward an expedition execution--within five years of the crime--not twenty plus years after the crime... After all, Timothy McVeigh was executed in timely fashion. These sociopaths should not have twenty years of life as a mockery to their victims--twenty years of life denied their victims.

Posted by StevenTorrey on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 6:50 am

If you're on death row on federal charges, you will be neutralized in just a few years.

We need the States to adopt the same efficiency.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 7:07 am

Simply not the case:

The feds wanted to move on McVeigh and they made sure that his constitutional rights appeared to be satisfied. Most others have been on federal death row for years if not decades already.

Posted by marcos on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 8:13 am

than the States. That doesn't mean it always happens as quickly as it should, of course. But it does happen better.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 8:42 am

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