Could California Supreme Court Tip Against The Death Penalty?


On the day justices Mariano-Florentino Cuellar and Leondra Kruger joined the California Supreme Court this month, the court issued a 4-3 ruling leaving in place a death sentence for a man with a long criminal record. With Gov. Jerry Brown’s newest appointees now on the court, the inmate plans to ask the justices to reconsider. If both new justices join the dissenters, the ruling could be overturned, says the Los Angeles Times. The court, long dominated by former prosecutors, has affirmed about 90 percent of the death sentences it has reviewed. “Brown certainly seems to have reshaped this court in a fairly dramatic way,” said Jan Stiglitz of the California Innocence Project.

Instead of appointing former prosecutors, Stiglitz said, “Brown has brought in not just people from the outside but people who don’t have this background that sort of predisposes them to be cynical in criminal cases.” Little experience in criminal law also can be a handicap, critics said. Former prosecutors have “stared evil in the face and know what it looks like,” said Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports the death penalty. “The academic view of criminal law is what produces bad decisions,” he said.

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