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Judge Tosses Dealth Penalty

Posted on: 12/16/2011

Judge Faye D’Opal struck down California’s newly adopted lethal injection protocol December 16th. The Marin County Superior Court judge in San Rafael ruled that the state had failed to justify the decision to put in place a three-drug lethal injection system. Some experts say this method can carry the risk of excruciating pain for the inmate being executed.

This is not the first time California judges have taken issue with the manner of execution of the death penalty. As recently as 2006, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel put a stop to executions in California after finding flaws in the state’s execution process. The moratorium is expected to extend into 2013 because of the current court battle between inmate attorneys and the State’s Attorney General. The ruling is the latest in the battle over the death penalty in the state.

Capital punishment is a legal form of punishment in the U.S. state of California. The first recorded execution in the area that is now California took place in 1778. These were the first of 709 executions before the California Supreme Court decision in People v. Anderson finding the death penalty to violate the state constitution, and the later Furman v. Georgia decision of the United States Supreme Court finding executions in general as practiced to violate the United States Constitution, both issued in 1972.

Here’s a look at what kinds of crimes can lead to the death penalty in California (capital offenses).

Capital offenses

The penal code provides for possible capital punishment in:

  1. treason against the state of California, defined as levying war against the state, adhering to its enemies, or giving them aid and comfort.
  2. perjury causing execution of an innocent person
  3. first-degree murder with special circumstances
    -for financial gain
    -the defendant had previously been convicted of first or second degree murder
    -multiple murders
    -committed using explosives
    -to avoid arrest or aiding in escaping custody
    -the victim was an on-duty peace officer; federal law enforcement officer or agent; or firefighter
    -the victim was a witness to a crime and the murder was committed to prevent them from testifying
    -the victim was a prosecutor or assistant prosecutor; judge or former judge; elected or appointed official; juror; and the murder was in retaliation for the victim’s official duties
    -the murder was “especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel, manifesting exceptional depravity”
    -the murderer lay in wait for the victim
    -the victim was intentionally killed because of their race, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation. (a hate crime)
    -the murder was committed during the commissioning of robbery; kidnapping; rape; sodomy; performance of a lewd or lascivious act upon the person of a child under the age of 14 years; oral copulation; burglary; arson; train wrecking; mayhem; rape by instrument; carjacking; torture; poisoning
    -the murder was intentional and involved the infliction of torture
    -the murder was committed by discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle
    -the defendant is an active member of a criminal street gang and was to further the activities of the gang
  4. train wrecking which leads to a person’s death.

Since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty with Gregg v. Georgia, 13 people have been executed by the state. As of March 2, 2011, there are 720 offenders (including 19 women) on California’s “death row.”

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