Wednesday 9 February 2011

Despite Judge's Prison Visit, Death Penalty Debate Continues

Even if a Federal judge rules executions can happen following his tour of new facilities at San Quentin Tuesday, some legal experts expect the battle over the death penalty to continue.  

Around 70% of Californians have favored the death penalty each year since State and Federal courts declared it to be cruel and unusual punishment, according to field polls done over the last few decades.

"They should, they should. There's people who really need it, instead of keeping them in prison,” said Earl Drennen, who favors the death penalty.

Public opinion conflicts with court rulings that have called various aspects of the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment. Chalk it up to defense attorneys doing their jobs.
"What they're doing is exhausting every conceivable remedy that the defendant may have,” said University of Pacific McGeorge School of Law professor John Myers.

Executions in California were suspended in 2006, two hours before Michael Morales was to die for raping and killing 17-year-old Teri Winchell of Lodi. Attorneys argued that lethal injection technicians weren't qualified, that lethal drugs weren't effective or potentially caused too much pain, and viewing facilities were too antiquated for the public to oversee the executions.

California Department of Corrections officials say they've resolved all objections, but even if the courts agree, don't expect executions to resume right away.

"I'm sure there is some unknown issue out there yet to be found. The lawyers that do these cases are very clever,” said Myers.

For opponents of the death penalty, any kind of delay is a good thing because there is always the chance down the road voters in California might change their minds and do away with executions altogether.  

Mike Meahger has a moral objection to the death penalty.

"I don't think anybody should be executed 'cause it's not right,” said Meahger.

Even with a big majority favoring the death penalty, surveys show that half of those polled prefer life without parole for first degree murderers, if they are made to work to compensate victim's families.  It is possible that California voters may follow other states in doing away with the death penalty, but it could take years if it’s to happen at all.

"There is a clear movement in the country away from the death penalty. Whether California gets on board with that eventually remains to be seen,” said Myers.


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