California Researchers Find Death Penalty Fails to Deter Crime, Remains Dysfunctional

San Francisco, CA –(March 6, 2015). On Friday, March 6, murder victims’ families, California state legislators, and several nationally renowned legal scholars will file legal briefs, known as Amicus Curiae, that highlight egregious flaws in the state’s administration of the death penalty. The briefs will be filed on behalf of Ernest Dewayne Jones, who last year had his death sentence overturned by Federal District Court Judge Cormac Carney.

In his ruling overturning Jones’ death sentence, Judge Carney declared California’s death penalty system to be unconstitutional. Carney said, “To be executed in such a system, where so many are sentenced to death but only a random few are actually executed, would offend the most fundamental of constitutional protections—that the government shall not be permitted to arbitrarily inflict the ultimate punishment of death.” Carney was appointed to the federal bench by George W. Bush.

Last week, attorneys for defendant Ernest Dewayne Jones, who has been on death row since 1995, argued that California’s death penalty system in unconstitutional because the capital indigent defense services have been chronically and severely underfunded for decades. Almost half of death row inmates are without habeas corpus counsel, many waiting for a decade or more for an attorney. As a result of the dysfunction in the California system, prisoners sentenced to death in California sit on death row for decades before the courts resolve legal challenges and are more likely to die of old age than execution.

Bethany Webb, whose sister Laura was murdered in the 2011 Seal Beach massacre, said she is joining several other murder victim family members in filing a brief because, “California’s death penalty is a charade. My sister’s killer is going to die of old age before an execution will ever be carried out. The death penalty retraumatizes families like mine and forces them to endure a decades-long cycle of waiting, court hearings, and uncertainty. It is cruel to continue propping up a system that encourages victims’ families to wait decades for an execution that may never come.” The murderer of Bethany’s sister is facing a death sentence in Orange County.

Senator Mark Leno, who signed onto a brief with other state legislators, said, “The facts are overwhelmingly clear: California’s death penalty system is broken and clearly there’s no political will to try to address the many flaws that plague the system. The death penalty is exorbitantly costly, arbitrarily applied, and serves no legitimate purpose whatsoever in its current condition. The only reasonable solution is to replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole.”

Stanford law professor John J. Donohue, along with several other top empirical scholars and criminologists, will be submitting a brief that explains that the death penalty fails to achieve one of its primary objectives: to deter crime. Professor Donohue said, “The best evidence and over 200 years of criminological thinking supports the District Court’s conclusion that the California death penalty is no more a deterrent to crime than a sentence of life in prison without parole.” Professor Donohue also concludes that reinvesting the money spent on the death penalty since 1978 would significantly reduce murders and other crimes: “The $4 billion spent since 1978 is enough to hire roughly 80,000 police officers which, if appropriately assigned, would be expected to prevent 466 murders (and much other crime) in California.”

“California remains at risk of executing an innocent person, which would be a grave injustice. The current system is both slow and riddled with error and inaccuracy, but trying to speed it up will only increase the risk of wrongful execution and cost hundreds of millions of dollars more,” said Paula M. Mitchell, an adjunct law professor at Loyola Law School. “There’s simply no justification for keeping the death penalty when the alternative of life in prison without parole is less expensive and avoids the risk of wrongful execution.” Mitchell will be submitting a brief explaining why the death penalty system is so costly and dysfunctional.

California taxpayers have spent more than $4 billion on the death penalty since 1978. During that time, more than 900 people have been sentenced to death, 96 have died of natural causes, suicide or undetermined causes, and 13 have been executed. There are currently 750 men and women on death row in California. The last execution in California was carried out more than nine years ago.

For additional information, or to schedule interviews with Bethany Webb, Sen. Mark Leno, Paula Mitchell, John Donohue, or the attorneys for Ernest Jones, please contact Stefanie Faucher at 510-393-4549 or