On March 28, two letters were sent to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice—one from members of the law enforcement community and the other from judges, raising concerns about the state’s death penalty. Thirty law enforcement officers, including current and former prosecutors, police chiefs and other officers, signed a letter stating that “California’s death penalty is broken.” The letter cites multiple reasons why the state’s death penalty system is not working, such as the excessive costs of capital cases, the risk of wrongful convictions, and the stress placed on victims’ families. The signers noted, “By pursuing life without parole sentences instead of death, resources now spent on the death penalty prosecutions and appeals could be used to investigate unsolved homicides, modernize crime labs, and expand effective violence prevention programs.” Signatories included San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey, the Police Chief of Newark Ray Samuels, former Director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Jeanne Woodford, former Deputy Attorney General John Duree, and eleven current and former Deputy District Attorneys from counties across California.

In addition, seventeen current and former judges signed a letter to the Commission stating, “We write to express our concerns about the current application and administration of the death penalty in California.” The letter points to the incredible strain capital cases have put on the entire judicial system in California. The letter concludes, “Any attempt to reform California’s death penalty must be comprehensive, and must ensure a means of providing sustained and sufficient resources for the entire system. We urge the Commission to consider recommending a moratorium on the death penalty in California until systemic reforms are implemented.” The signatory judges served on the California Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal, and/or Superior Court in California.

The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice was created in 2004 to investigate wrongful convictions, and to recommend reforms to make California’s criminal justice system “just, fair, and accurate.” The letters were delivered in time for the Commission’s third and final public death penalty hearing last week.
(“47 Members of Law Enforcement from California Cite Problems with the Death Penalty and Call for Reforms,” Death Penalty Focus Press Release, March 27, 2008; copies of the letters are available on press release). See Costs and New Voices.