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Criminal Law

Crim. Law Journal Spring 2019, Vol. 19, Issue 2

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE: ACKNOWLEDGING OUR INADEQUATE TREATMENT OF JURORS IN CALIFORNIA’S DEATH PENALTY DEBATE

By Elizabeth N. Jones and Sydney L. McGregor*

The death penalty in California faces an uncertain future. While this essay does not ask readers to adopt a position contrary to their own personal beliefs, it does propose that consideration be given to an integral and often overlooked group within the capital punishment process: the jurors.

California’s death penalty is currently mired in an existential dichotomy of the state’s own making. On one hand, its voters support and continually affirm the use of capital punishment. A 2016 ballot proposition seeking to abolish the death penalty was defeated; voters actually approved an initiative during that same election cycle to speed up the process.1 California’s immense size and diverse demographics certainly challenge the state to put forth a truly unified front, but its voters engaged in a democratic approval of its criminal justice policies.

On the other hand, on March 13, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order suspending capital punishment in California.2 This unilateral action grants temporary reprieves to all of the inmates on death row— over 700 at last count—and effectively closes San Quentin State Prison’s execution chamber.3

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