California’s top legal minds agree that the state’s system for capital punishment is dysfunctional, if not irreparably broken, says the Los Angeles Times. “The leading cause of death on California’s death row is old age,” said state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George, reiterating an observation he made at the time the state Legislature approved a new $220-million death row at San Quentin. The project to house the state’s death row population, the nation’s largest, has yet to break ground and is now predicted to cost $400 million. George last year proposed that some death penalty reviews that automatically go to the state high court — and account for at least a quarter of its workload — be handled by California courts of appeal. But that would require a constitutional amendment by legislative action or voter initiative, neither of which has happened.
John Van de Kamp, a former Los Angeles County district attorney and state attorney general, chaired the bipartisan California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice that this year drafted recommendations to overhaul capital punishment in the state. “If you want to have a death penalty and make it work, you’re going to have to spend the money,” he said. “It now takes 20 to 25 years from judgment to execution — and growing.” The impasse persists, Van de Kamp said, because the predominantly conservative advocates of the death penalty don’t want to spend the extra $100 million a year needed to fairly administer the appeals process, while opponents of capital punishment are content with the glacial pace of executions.