Capital punishment includes various sentences including death as a penalty for serious violations of criminal laws (Lowe, 2004). Capital punishments for various reasons are not something new, but rather it is a practice that has been exercised throughout history. Currently, the United States uses various forms of death penalties as capital punishment ranging from electrocution to gas injection as opposed to the more inhumane forms that were used in the past such as crucifixion, beheading among other forms (Mandery, 2011). Though capital punishments have persisted in many jurisdictions around the world, the practice has remained to be the most controversial.
Today, the United States death penalty statute is quite complex. The capital punishments system consisted of the multifaceted strata that must be adhered to inflict a death penalty on the victims (Mandery, 2011). However, the structural system is determined by each state legislature. In essence, the state legislature identifies how the structure works considering many factors including who should impose the sentence, the defense counsel and its roles, as well as the aggravating and mitigating issues relating to the case (Franklin & William, 2003). At the federal level, these factors are broadly described to give room for individual facts to be determined.
However, these factors are variedly interpreted depending on each state’s statute. In many states including California, the prosecutor is allowed to determine whether the crime should be prosecuted as a capital offense or to allow for the plea bargain. In the circumstance where the case is taken to court as a capital offense, it is the responsibility of the jury or judges to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused person (Franklin & William, 2003). The jury or judges also must determine whether the sentence should be the death penalty. However, the accused person is allowed to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Following the Furman v. Georgia case, where the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty violated the Eighth Amendment that prohibited cruel punishments to convicts, many states amended most of their statutes disallowing or reducing the death penalty to be consistent with the court’s decision (Franklin & William, 2003). The court’s decision made capital punishments unconstitutional. However, in another case, Gregg v. Georgia, the Supreme Court sustained the constitutionality of the death penalty but remained practical within the new legislations (Mandery, 2011). Following these rulings, many states did not scrape off the statutes allowing capital punishments but came up with ways through which these cases could be fairly administered.
California, a state with the highest number of convicts on death row particularly Los Angeles county having almost half of this number came up with policies that have not only helped in the fair administration of justice to the death row convicts but have quickened and reduced the cost of the judgment process (Arthur, 2007). The policies and strategies that the state has put in place to administer justice to the death row convicts have targeted three key areas. First is the justice to the victims, second is the reduction of time and cost, and finally the judicial process.
Investigations by the state supreme court and the American Bar Association (ABA) indicate that the number of death cases being reported at the state supreme court is quite high and judges cannot easily cope with this number (Arthur, 2007). Moreover, the Supreme Court takes a long time to appoint the counsels who are capable of taking up the direct appeals as well as the state habeas proceedings. Therefore, the state has put in place measures to increase the number of attorneys to every chamber of justice and has equally created a central staff consisting of ten attorneys handling death penalty appeals, motions, as well as habeas proceedings (Arthur, 2007). These measures will ensure a considerable reduction of death cases backlog in the state supreme court.
In the administration of justice to the death convicts, the state has pursued transparency in the exercise associated with the prosecutorial discretion to pursue the death penalty. The transparency focused on geographical, racial, and decision variations in the involvement of defense in the judicial process. To enhance transparency while discharging their duties, the state has formulated policies that govern compliance with the obligations of the constitution to make known the exculpatory evidence (Arthur, 2007). The policies describe how death penalty decisions are made, the participants in the decision process, and the criteria that have been applied. In addition, the policies specify the defense input before the decisions are made in a court of law.
Concerning the cost of administration of justice, there is an exigent requirement to augment subsidy at every single point and moderate deferrals at least to the nationwide level (Arthur, 2007). These include habeas corpus, direct appeals, as well as trials. Solemn attention should be specified to the proposed amendment of the constitution and changes to the Californian policies, rules, and statutes after the accomplishment of amplified funding. This will allow for the transfer of completely briefed awaiting death forfeit appeals to the Courts of Appeal from the Supreme Courts and equally inspire the real verdicts and hearings of death sentence cases in the national habeas proceedings (Arthur, 2007).
These key areas required various amendments to the existing statutes and legislations to make them effective. Moreover, various recommendations have been brought forward by various studies and the commission’s work that has augmented these policies and legislations. The effectiveness of the administration of justice to death row convicts remains a major concern particularly in the state of California where the number is twice that of the United States combined.
Generally, the California State has put in place policies that encourage the administration of death punishment emphasizing accurateness and equality for the accomplishment of justice objectives particularly in counties with the highest number of death cases such as Los Angeles. Besides, the policies create an unrestricted collection of cumulative statistics concerning all murder case prosecutors’ verdicts. The strategies impose obligatory reporting on the procedures, decisions made, and the rulings of all cases. The reports are deemed guidance to other jurists as well as prosecutors on their decisions in other cases. These include whether to dispose of murder cases through trial and court’s verdict, plea, or dismissal, strive for the death penalty, or to charge distinct under conditions. The policies also require counties with the highest number of death convicts including Los Angeles to establish a Death Penalty Review Panel (PRP) to subject yearly reports to the courts, the governor, and legislatures. This will make developments in the functions of laws regarding death punishments and scrutinize ways of safeguarding the provision that has been put in place.
Arthur, L. (2007). Remedies for California’s death row deadlock. Journal of Criminal Justice, 43(2), 415-437.
Franklin, B. & William, Z. (2003). The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment. Great Clarendon Street, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lowe, W. (2004). Pro Death Penalty. Web.
Mandery, E. (2011). Capital Punishment in America: A Balanced Examination. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.