Fewer juries are sending murderers to death row, but California now has nearly 670 of them awaiting execution, nearly double the number of Texas or Florida, says the San Jose Mercury News. California would have to execute one inmate a day for nearly two years to clear its death row. The past 20 years have made it clear the state has no appetite for that prospect: just 13 inmates have been executed since 1978. Thirty-nine have died of illness or old age.
Against that backdrop and concerns about the fairness of how different counties use the death penalty, a state justice commission this week will begin to take the closest look in years at California’s awkward approach to enforcing capital punishment. “If you are going to have a death penalty, you should have something that is not dysfunctional,” said Chief Justice Ronald George, who ill testify in Sacramento. The three inmates closest to execution dates (all postponed while challenges to lethal injection unfold) have already spent an average of nearly 22 years on death row. George and 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Arthur Alarcon are likely to urge shifting death penalty appeals to state appeals courts. They hope it will ease the backlog of the current system, in which appeals go to the state Supreme Court.