Lack of Qualified Attorneys in California Delays Death Penalty Cases

A shortage of qualified criminal defense lawyers in California has caused major delays in the state’s capital punishment system. Nearly half of those sentenced to death in California are waiting for the state to appoint them a post-conviction attorney. Death row inmates wait an average of 10-12 years. The long delay is attributed to the lack of experienced lawyers to take on this part of the appeals process. The California Supreme Court requires that lawyers have experience in trial and appellate court. Criminal defense attorneys also attribute the scarcity to inadequate state funding. University of California at Berkeley law professor Elisabeth Semel said that an investigation for post-conviction cases can cost about $250,000, which includes expenses related to expert witnesses and travel. The current state budget for an investigation is $50,000 for an inmate. Some experts believe that the shortage of defense lawyers will only be met when the state expands resources like the Habeas Corpus Resource Center, where lawyers have access to paid investigators and paralegals. California has the largest death row population in the country, with more than 700 inmates.

(M. Dolan, “Lack of funding builds death row logjam,” Los Angeles Times, November, 27, 2010). See Costs and Representation.