The death penalty system in California is so backed up that the state would have to execute five prisoners a month for the next 10 years just to clear the prisoners already on death row, says the Los Angeles Times. The average wait for execution in the state is 17.2 years, twice the national figure. The backlog is likely to grow, considering the trend: Thirty people have been on death row for more than 25 years, 119 for more than 20 years and 408 for more than a decade.
Arthur Alarcon, a veteran judge on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, supports capital punishment and has voted in favor of death sentences more often than he has voted against them. In the Southern California Law Review, he called for a radical overhaul of what he described as systemic problems, including a critical shortage of defense lawyers to represent death row inmates on appeal and an inefficient use of judicial resources. Alarcon suggested a major infusion of cash to attract lawyers to the difficult cases. He also proposed shifting automatic judicial review of death penalty cases to the state’s appeals courts. “The delays in reviewing capital cases will continue to grow in California to the point where the United States Supreme Court may someday hold that such imprisonment is, in and of itself, cruel and unusual punishment,” he argued. In an interview, Alarcon said, “There may be no interest on the political side in doing something. They may be comfortable with a de facto abolition of capital punishment.”