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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

DA's I Know And Love

I spent the day in one of the LA County Branch courts and ran across a few of the DA’s I used to try cases against in the old days.

Back then when I was in the same courts every day for years, I got to know which DA’s were the “good guys” and which I had to step around. They got to know that I was okay too and it was a good working relationship. The system worked better than it would have — far better than it works today when nobody trusts anyone.

My DA friends were all riled up about a US Supreme Court decision that was reported today in the LA Times. No, it wasn’t a reversal of a guilty criminal’s conviction on a technicality. It was much worse than that in their eyes.

I agree with them - and I’m proud of my friends for being so pissed off.

A few years ago, a DA in Pomona was assigned to prosecute a case based on a search warrant. The defense lawyer told the DA that the affidavit supporting the warrant was based on a lie - the officer could not have seen what he claimed to see on the premises. The DA did his job and went to see for himself. He came to the same conclusion and it bothered him. He wrote a memo to his superior stating his doubts about the officer’s veracity.

The superior at first agreed with his deputy DA, but when pressed by the police who were offended, backed off and ordered the case to proceed. The doubting DA was removed from the case, and eventually testified for the defense to his own observations when he was subpoenaed.

Eventually, the DA was disciplined by his superiors. He was transferred to misdemeanor prosecutions, denied promotion, and sent to a courthouse that was further away from his home.

He sued his boss, LADA Gil Garcetti. Gil had been in trouble with his troops because they felt his policies were arrogant, elitist, and unsupportive of the rank and file. He had a reputation for punishing critics and placing loyal cronies in high positions.

The US Supreme Court was torn between two lines of precedents. In the 1960's, the Warren court had limited the power of governmental agencies to discipline employees who spoke out on issues “of public concern” based on the 1st Amendment. But in the 1980's, the Court had upheld the power of government to discipline employees for violations of internal policies. These two lines of precedent meant that a decision would rest on personal philosophy of each of the justices.

When Justice O’Connor retired, the vote was 4-4. Now it was reargued after Alito was affirmed and the vote was now 5-4, ruling that the DA had the power to discipline the deputy for his violation of policy.

The other majority votes were Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy, and the new CJ Roberts. The Court skirted the Free Speech issue by implying that an employee could not be disciplined if he went to the press.

Garcetti had been voted out of office - not because he was unpopular with his deputies - but because he “lost” the OJ Simpson case. He was replaced by Steve Cooley, who had always been one of the good guys. Cooley was now quoted by the Times as praising the decision because you can’t run an office when a deputy can run to federal court every time you discipline him for deviating from policy.

Steve is now seen by many DA’s as no better than Gil - a power mad, paranoid bureaucrat. Say it ain’t so, Stevie.

The trial DA’s in the trenches - at least the “old school” ones who I know and respect - were upset because they view their profession as one of high responsibility. They are aware of their power over the individuals they prosecute and try to walk the same line good defense lawyers do - try to win but within the rules.

A DA who doubts the truth of his witnesses, especially police officers, has a duty to speak out - at least to his superiors. The effect of the decision in this case is to send a message that scruples will be punished.

There is always pressure put on prosecutors to “support” the police, who have made the arrests they are prosecuting. Police are always looking to blame the DA when they refuse to file a case because of a “bad search” or slipshod investigation, accusing them of lack of aggressive prosecution of criminals.

DA’s aren’t rewarded for timidity or leniency, but for winning - especially winning “hard cases” where the evidence is thin. The DA who asserts his oath to only prosecute cases he had confidence in is often looked on in this culture as a wimp.

One of the DA’s I talked to pointed out that the Rampart scandal was touched off by a memo by a deputy DA to his superior about police misconduct. “So, we’re supposed to tell the story to a newspaper, but not our own bosses? Who has the guts to do that?”

Thursday, May 25, 2006

I am Flitcraft

I have to go to court tomorrow on 1 of my 2 remaining DP cases and I have been dreading it all week. All my career I have fought the urge to procrastinate about unpleasant confrontation.

Hah! A criminal lawyer who hates confrontation? Well, you can hate something, but still not be able to avoid it.

So I can't sleep and when I can't, I read. And when I read in this mood, it is often to read something I liked reading before.

If I read something new, I am likely to become impatient - I have 6 or 7 books around that I can't get past the first page, chapter, or wherever I was when I lost concentration and tossed them aside - expecting someday to be in a better mood.

And if the book is very good, then I might drop it just because it is so good that I wish I had written it - that thought doesn't help me sleep at all.

So, I try to re-read a book I liked the first time. But that can be disappointing. It's depressing to pick up a book I loved when I was young, only to find that it is awful - that makes me think that getting old is the problem and that thought won't allow me to sleep, either.

So, I am far more likely to read again one of the rare books that I find I can read as many times as I want - from any point in the book - and love it again.

So, I read, guess what - sure, "The Maltese Falcon." Every time I read it I find some passage or line or plot gizmo that gets me.

This time it was the "Flitcraft" story that Spade tells Brigid while waiting for Cairo to show up. Spade just launches into this tale, which seems like a diversion - it takes about 2 1/2 pages in the edition I am reading now. It's unusual because Hammett doesn't wander very much in his narratives - he tells you what you need to know and not much more.

Spade says that some years before he had a case about this guy named Flitcraft, an ordinary contented guy with a wife and kids who one day was walking to lunch and was almost struck by a beam that fell from a construction site. Flitcraft was freaked, and realized the fragility of life. He abandoned everything he knew - job, wife, kids and wandered around for a few years, and eventually married someone else and started a new family. Spade relates how he was struck with the realization that Flitcraft, after the life altering episode, had eventually fallen into a new life that was very much the same as his old life - similar wife, family, job, routines.

Students of Hammett (and there are many in the academic world who have picked his bones clean) often point to the story as an example of Hammett''s world view: something like an existential idea that chance rules the universe.

But for me, there is another, more-Hammett-like notion involved. First of all, as I said, neither Hammett, nor his creation Spade, were the sort to carry on pointless badinage. Spade is telling this tale to Brigid at a critical juncture - when she keeps asking him if she can trust him to be on her side. The point of the story is that no matter how much you try, you can't alter your nature. You are who you are.

Spade was warning Brigid that his nature was that he was a detective and that he was on the job to solve the crime and so she should not expect him to become a selfless lover devoted to her even if she turns out to be using him. She is not going to be Sam's femme fatale.

And maybe he is also reminding himself that his love for her will not redeem her, either.

What's that got to do with me?

I guess I'll always worry about my cases, doubt that I've done enough, feel sickeningly guilty about it, waste precious time and energy staring into space ...

I'm going to be officially "old" in a couple of months - up to now I've been "prematurely" old - tho', maybe it is time to admit, as Greg has often said, that I have been old for as long as he can remember -

It's time I got to accept my nature, my fate, and stop trying so hard to be someone I'm not.

But then again, maybe that's my nature, too.

Okay. That should help me sleep. Goodnight, moon.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Home Security and Immigration

I don't get Bush's immigration plan to spend millions to fence our nation's borders.

Doesn't he always say --- like when pushing the tax cut --- that people can do it better than government?

Oh, and who do you think they'll hire to do the building?

So, here's my idea. Why not another tax cut or tax credit for every homeowner to put fences around their own property to keep out the alien terrorists? What a boon to our economy.

The only problem I foresee is that we would have to clean, paint, re-roof ourselves, mow our own lawns. Stuff like that.

Sure, it might be inconvenient ... but with gas prices going to $10 a gallon, people will probably be staying home a lot more anyway ... and that's great for homeland security.

Or we might try something we hardly every do - try to solve a problem rather than toss political manure at it. Get to the root cause of why people come north for work. Because they want jobs and better life they can't get in their own country, which is hopelessly poor, corrupt, unjust - in other words what we used to call "a third world country."

How about a Marshall Plan for Mexico and Central America - an infusion of billions of dollars to finally break the cycle and lift those countries to the level of Canada, from which there doesn't seem to be an immigration crisis.

The likelihood of that happening is about equal to the fence stopping the flood.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Questions About "Capote" and "In Cold Blood"

After viewing the DVD of last year's movie, "Capote," I was impelled to re-view Richard Brooks' movie of Capote's famous "non-fiction novel," "In Cold Blood." Apart from their merits as art or entertainment, I was reminded of the the power of film to crystallize issues or to distort them.

The best art / entertainment forces us to question our assumptions without lecturing or boring us with its answers. I was left with many questions. Here they are, with some of my personal thoughts, not meant to be definitive answers.

Would Perry Smith, the primary focus of Capote’s book and the movies based on it, be given the death penalty today?
His crimes certainly fit within the category of those which merit it — brutal and senseless executions of 4 innocent, helpless people in their home.

But "heinous" or "shocking" crimes do not lead intevitably to death verdicts. I know of similar, and even “worse,” crimes for which juries refused to order death. I could cite other cases in which juries voted death for crimes that were far less "heinous" than those.

What makes the difference?
No one really knows. There are too many variables to count. The skill and attitude of all parties - police, families, witnesses, judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, jurors, investigators, experts. Money and time available to prepare. Degree of publicity. Politics. Religion. Ambition. Integrity.

Then there are unknowns, random factors that no one could foresee, but which often determine the choice. The way the defendant looks to a juror, whether a lawyer or witness is likeable, how jurors relate to each other ... and a thousand other imponderables that no one has figured out.
In practice, there are so many variables involved that it is impossible to predict an outcome. All we can say for sure is that system operates in a chaotic and capricious way.

Even in Kansas at the time the events occurred, opinions were apparently divided.
According to the Lawrence, Kansas Journal-World, April 6, 2005 , most in the community of Holcomb, Kansas certainly were pleased with the verdict. But not all. Howard Fox, the brother of victim Bonnie Clutter is reported to have publically urged mercy for the killers on Christian principles: “The deed is done, and taking another life cannot change it... Instead, let us forgive as God would have us do ..."

In a recent interview (2004), he is again quoted as saying: "You have to (forgive). Otherwise, you can't live with yourself. (The criminals) should've been put away, of course, but hanging is an old-world way of things."

The same article also noted the ambivalence of Kansans to the death penalty: “Since its beginning, the state of Kansas has swung back and forth in its support of the death penalty. In 1859, when Kansas was still a territory, it passed its first death penalty law. The law was done away with in 1907, reinstated in 1935, again repealed in 1972 and finally reinstated in 1994. The method of execution until 1994 was hanging. After that it became lethal injection.

“Since the law was reinstated, seven men have been sentenced to death in Kansas, but there have been no executions. Their death sentences were thrown in doubt in December 2004, when the Kansas Supreme Court struck down the state's death penalty statute because of problems with how juries consider evidence during the sentencing phase of a capital murder trial ....”

I don’t claim to be an expert on the facts of the Clutter case. Reading a “nonfiction novel,” watching a “docu-drama” movie, and reading news articles on the subject fail to qualify me to reach a verdict, but even a cursory internet surf reveals facts related to the case that, in the least, raises hackles.

For instance:
• The lawyers and jurors all knew (or knew of) and admired the victims before the crimes. Despite that, the appointed defense lawyers did not ask for a change of venue (supposedly advising their clients that local ministers had preached against the death penalty).
• Psychiatric testimony - by today’s standards - was primitive and sketchy. One supposed expert opined that the 31 year old Smith’s “enurisis” (bedwetting) was a characteristic of a serial killer, though there was no evidence of any other muders in Smith’s record.
• Even so, a local psychiatrist testified that Hickock was sane, but he could not be sure about Smith.
• Smith was in thrall of his crime partner, Hickock, described as a con man, who kept urging the unstable Smith to leave no witnesses.
• Smith had won a Bronze Star in the Korean War.
• Smith had a cruel, violent childhood with alcoholism, neglect, abuse, suicide rampant.
• He had expressed remorse, but little effort was apparently put into his defense (the trial took 8 days).
• The alternative of life without parole was not available in 1960 in Kansas.

Would these points — or any one of them — make a difference to an “impartial” jury?
My experience tells me the answer is possibly yes ---
IF these facts were presented through effective lawyering --- urging consideration of not just the circumstances of the crime, but also the background of the defendant, as is required by today’s capital laws.
Then again, none of it might sway a jury, even today. It's a crapshoot.

It seems clearer that, in the atmosphere (and state of the law) of the 1950's, the verdict was probably inevitable.
In 1950's rural Kansas, brutal crimes were rare. Today, we are inured to such events.

Should that make a difference in the punishment?

Would (and should) the same crimes in California or New York demand “automatic” death for the culprits?
L.A. had its version in The Manson Cases in the early 1970's, resulting in death verdicts (which were later converted to life after California’s then existing capital law was overturned).

Finally, the movie "Capote" contains chilling moments in which Smith urges the writer to use his book to argue against his imminent execution. Capote is depicted as dissembling, really waiting and hoping for the execution to occur before finishing his book.

If Capote had used his talent to assist Smith, would (or should) that have made a difference?
He was a celebrity and could have marshaled others to make it “a cause.” Around the same time, Caryl Chessman had his supporters in California, including Burt Lancaster and other celebs who actively petititioned the governor to spare his life. That effort failed.

In “Capote,” the author claimed to hate himself for choosing his art and his ambition over his feelings for Smith, whatever they were in truth. He is said to have “believed” that Smith and Hickock deserved to die, despite his empathy for Smith, in whom he saw a tortured soul not unlike his own.

Was it his own self-loathing death wish that impelled the writer’s duality, his actions and inaction?
Was it the need for fame, success, the need for recognition of his genius, his own “just reward.”
Or simply his sense of the best — the most dramatic — ending for his book?

Did the execution provide closure, at least for Capote?

He claimed that the “experience” stayed with him for the rest of his life. But he was notoriously unreliable about his own “truths.” An epilogue reminds us that he never finished another major work and became a hopeless alcoholic. He is mostly remembered in his last years as a silly celebrity a self-parody, famous for being famous.

I can't answer my own questions to my complete satisfaction. I don't know if anyone can. The popularity of movies that intelligently raise the issue (e.g., "Dead Man Walking"), show only that the questions continue to haunt us.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

New Links

Check out my updated links:
Greg's ideas for dozens, music for dozens,
and At Dusk Music,
especially their new CD, "You Can Know Danger" - not a title for Raymond Chandler's next novel, or Bogie's new film, or Governor Arnie's response to commutation - but some excellent songs.

While you're at it, check out my new movie and story blogs.

Monday, May 08, 2006

NEWS FLASH: Teens Lie About Sex!!!

Sunday's L.A. Times (May 7, 2006, P. A-21) headlined: "Many Youths Diosregard Their Virginity Pledges, Harvard Study Says."

The story was about a government sponsored study that interviewed 12-18 year olds in 1995 about their sexual activity and then re-interviewed them years later.

14,000 teens - virgins and nonvirgins - when first interviewed, had pledged to abstain from sex until marriage.

Now, the study found that more than half said they had broken their vows within a year.

If that wasn't shocking enough, the article contains the following revelations:

"... Of those who [claimed to have] had sex after telling the interviewers they had taken the pledge, 73% denied having made the pledge" in the first place.

The groups which had praised the virginity pledges as a rapidly growing positive trend toward reducing teen pregnancy and raising moral values sharply criticized the study's findings.

But they should have continued to read. The study should be praised for proving what we have suspected all along. Teens aren't sluts, after all.

In its final paragraphs, the article reveals:

"The adolescents were also unreliable in reporting their sexual experiences.
... More than a quarter of [those who had claimed to be] nonvirgins in the first interview who later took a virginity pledge said in the next interview that they had never had sex."

A researcher conlcuded:

"'This puts a lot of error in these studies...' Virginity pledgers ... are more likely to give bad information - unreliable data - about their sexual history.'"

CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? The teens LIED to adults - AND get this:


So take heart, parents. Your kids are only wannabe skanks ... they dress, act, and talk that way cuz its cool ... but deep down, they're really Sandra Dee ...

Just ask them!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Did Texas Execute An Innocent Man?

The L.A. Times today reported that a panel of arson experts has found that a man executed in 1994 for the arson murder of his 3 children was convicted on faulty expert testimony. (Los Angeles Times, May 3, 2006, Page A-16, "Panel Says Faulty Arson Evidence Led To Execution").

The most important issue this development should impact is the rush to speedy executions. The crime in this case occurred in 1991. Cameron Willingham was executed in February, 1994. Texas is proud of its efficiency. The state far surpasses any other in rapid executions.

This case may answer the often shouted demand for "speedy justice." Complaints about lengthy delays and multiple appeals deny the need for thorough review of every aspect of these cases BEFORE the terminal event, not afterward.

Willingham had continued to proclaim his innocence up to the moment he was lethally injected. He had claimed that the fire was accidental, but prosecution expert testimony opined that the fire was of human origin based on interpretation of patterns of burn marks.

I suspect that Texas will defend their actions by denigrating the panel as biased, citing the fact that Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project commissioned the report, although no member of the panel was connected with Willingham's case, and none were paid for their work.

All are apparently independent, well-respected in their field. Their stated concern is that arson investigators are too often field educated firemen who have insufficient training and education in the scientific foundations of thei field.

Previous revelations (including conclusive DNA examination) have proved the unreliability of testimony by eyewitnesses, informants, police officers' versions of defendants' confessions, psychiatric experts, and fingerprint experts.

The unreliability of expert testimony is troubling because it strikes at the judicial system's reliance on scientific evidence as "the best" form of proof. Recent studies have cast doubt on work done by police lab experts in Texas and California, including incompetent analysis of blood, fingerprints, ballistics.

One bad expert employed by a police lab can screw up hundreds of cases.

Another obvious point this case speaks to is whether innocent people have been in fact been executed in recent years.

Although many cases have been documented, prosecutors, judges, elected executives and legislators, and many in the public continue to believe that claims are exaggerated, unproved, involve antiquated practices, or are motivated by soft headed opposition to capital punishment.

The fact that this article was "buried" on Page 16 of the newspaper is also troubling. If these findings are upheld, it should persuade more people that the implementation of the death penalty is fatally flawed.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Death Penalty is "Dysfunctional," By George!

Today’s L.A. Times (5/1/06; P.B3; “Jurist Decries Death Row Backlog”) reported statements by California’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron George that highlighted a perceived crisis in death penalty implementation. George is quoted in the article as calling the process “dysfunctional” because the Legislature has failed to supply enough money to hire new staff attorneys for the Court and to increase the hourly rate for appellate lawyers.

The governor’s spokesperson said he is amenable to do what is needed to speed up executions. Legislators rejected a moratorium on the death penalty last session, but George says their refusal to allocate more money operates as a “de facto” moratorium.

It is true, we are far behind the death leading state, Texas. Since 1978 when the penalty was reinstated here, only 13 have been executed here compared with 355 in Texas. There are now 650 on California’s death row, far more having died there from murder, suicide or “natural” causes than execution. Last year the Legislature authorized $223 million for a “new and larger death row with 768 cells.”

One legislator is quoted as blaming George for not shouting loud enough sooner. He can be blamed for increasing the death row population, but for a different reason. His Supreme Court has affirmed almost every death penalty appeal, finding “harmless error” in trivial mistakes like admitting un-Mirandized confessions, allowing serious prosecutorial misconduct, relying on untrustworthy hearsay evidence, excusing incompetent trial lawyers. The result is that the federal court has had to reverse many of these cases in lengthy and expensive Habeas Corpus proceedings. Of course, critics in support speedier death shift the blame to this "liberal" federal bench.

Anyway, these issues seem to come up annually. Last year, the L.A. Times explored the problem (3/6/05; “Death Row Often Means A Long Life”, including the following observations:

"What we are paying for at such great cost," said UC Berkeley law professor Frank Zimring, "is essentially our own ambivalence about capital punishment. We try to maintain the apparatus of state killing and another apparatus that almost guarantees that it won't happen. The public pays for both sides."

According to state and federal records obtained by The Times, maintaining the California death penalty system costs taxpayers more than $114 million a year beyond the cost of simply keeping the convicts locked up for life and not counting the millions more in court costs needed to prosecute capital cases and hold post-conviction hearings in state and federal courts.

Other states execute much more rapidly than California. Eleven Southern states — led by Texas (337 executions), Virginia (94) and Oklahoma (75) — account for 90% of all executions in the last 27 years. This is partly because California, similar to other non-Southern capital punishment states, dedicates much more time and money to state and federal appeals.

Another important factor is that the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, serving California and consisting largely of Democratic appointees, is more likely to hear death penalty petitions than the more conservative appeals courts serving Texas (5th Circuit) and Virginia (4th Circuit).

"We don't turn them [executions] out the way a lot of Southern states do," California Chief Justice Ronald M. George said in an interview. "The virtue of our system is also its vice. We go to such lengths to minimize the possibility of error, and we've built in a lot of delay... "The part I find most dysfunctional is that we have a delay of three to four years between the time the death penalty judgment is imposed by the trial court and the time the defendant is appointed counsel."

George said that 115 death row inmates still have not been appointed lawyers for the first direct appeal to the state Supreme Court that is mandated by state law. And 149 lack lawyers for state habeas corpus and executive clemency petitions.

In recent years, both state and federal courts have increased the incentives for qualified defense attorneys to take death penalty cases. The state Supreme Court offers $125 an hour or fixed fees ranging from $135,000 to $314,000 for capital case defense representation. The federal courts recently increased their hourly rate to $150 for defense lawyers in capital cases.

But even at those rates, only a relative handful of attorneys from the 200,000 licensed to practice in California are willing to devote the years of work and vast number of filings a typical capital case can take. Because of the long appeals process, the delay between sentencing and execution in California averages nearly 20 years. As a result, there is a general graying of the population on death row. According to Department of Corrections statistics, 180 death row inmates are older than 50; 42 are older than 60.

Prison records show that California death row inmates are far more likely to die of natural causes than they are at the hands of the executioner. Since 1978, during the same period that 11 inmates were put to death, 28 died naturally, 12 committed suicide and two were killed in incidents on the San Quentin exercise yard. "The leading cause of death on death row," George said, "is old age." ...

... The public cost of maintaining the death penalty, meanwhile, continues to mount. The annual bill breaks down like this:

• According to Corrections Department spokeswoman Margot Bach, it costs $90,000 more a year to house an inmate on death row, where each person has a private cell and extra guards, than in the general prison population. That accounts for $57.5 million annually.

• Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, whose deputies represent the counties during appeals, estimates that he devotes about 15% of his criminal division budget to capital cases, or about $11 million annually.

• The California Supreme Court, which is required by law to review every death penalty case, spends $11.8 million annually for court-appointed defense counsel.

• The Office of the State Public Defender, which represents some death row inmates, has an annual budget of $11.3 million. The San Francisco-based Habeas Corpus Resource Center, another state-funded office, represents inmates and trains death penalty attorneys on a budget of $11 million.

• Finally, federal public defenders offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento, and private attorneys appointed by the federal court system for California cases, receive about $12 million annually.

The resulting $114-million annual cost does not include the substantial extra funds needed to try the complicated capital cases in county courts.

Research by the UC Berkeley School of Public Policy in 1993, the most recent study of its type available, showed that in Los Angeles County, a capital murder trial costs three times more to try than a noncapital murder case, $1.9 million compared to $630,000. One reason for the extra costs is that capital cases require a jury trial for sentencing after guilt has been determined in the first trial.

Typically, capital cases have four times as many pretrial motions, more investigators and expert testimony and much more exhaustive jury selection. Other spending not included in the total are courtroom, staff and filing costs at the California Supreme Court, four federal district courts and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In an interview, George estimated that the state's highest court spends about 20% of its time and resources on death penalty cases alone. Federal habeas corpus appeals in death cases are so expensive that the 9th Circuit assigns a U.S. district judge just to review the budgets of each capital case.

For the present, activists both for and against the death penalty are unhappy.
"When we reinstated the death penalty, I don't think anyone believed it would look like it does today," said Dane Gillette, a senior assistant attorney general who overseas the state's death penalty cases. "The system is twisted and corrupted in ways that were not anticipated."

Michael Laurence, director of the Habeas Corpus Resource Center and one of the state's leading capital defense lawyers, sees the whole process as an enormous misuse of resources.

"We put all these resources into litigation where we end up killing one person every two or three years," said Laurence. "What if just a small portion of the money we spent on these cases went for the prevention of child abuse? From my experience, this would have done far more to prevent murders than anything we have done with capital punishment."

Possibly as a result of the high costs and bottleneck on death row, there has been a marked decline in death sentences in recent years. In 1999, juries imposed 42 death sentences. In 2004, the number dropped to nine. But the numbers fluctuate, and new admissions to California's death row continue to exceed by many times the number of executions...."

I worry about he emphasis of costs as an argument against the death penalty. I fear that instead of our state's scruples against executing people without at least trying to provide competent counsel for them and a thorough check and balance to assure the "correctness" of the punishment, California will go the way of other states and try to get it done wholesale.