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California death penalty system 'dysfunctional': state commission

[JURIST] Nearly $100 million in annual funding is needed to fix California's "dysfunctional" prison system, according to a state commission's report [PDF text; press release] released Monday. The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice (CCFAJ) [official website] was asked to evaluate instances of wrongful convictions and to make informed recommendations for future changes. The CCFAJ report found:

The system is plagued with excessive delay in the appointments of counsel for direct appeals and habeas corpus petitions, and a severe backlog in the review of appeals and habeas petitions before the California Supreme Court. Ineffective assistance of counsel and other claims of constitutional violations are succeeding in federal courts at a very high rate.
Because it costs more to keep an inmate on death row than to keep an inmate sentenced to life without parole, the CCFAJ also suggested that the state could alleviate some stresses on the system by allowing for more judicial discretion in sentencing or narrowing the list of crimes punishable by death. The Los Angeles Times has more.

The California justice system has previously tried to reduce the death row population by increasing the judicial discretion allowed, but recent proposals were withdrawn [JURIST reports] out of fear of overburdening appellate courts. The CCFAJ found that California has the largest death row among all 50 states, with 670 prisoners, but that the California appeals process takes an average of eight to 13 years longer than those in the other states. Under California law, a death sentence is automatically appealed [California Penal Code s. 1239(b) text] to the state Supreme Court.

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