When Californias Civil Code would affect the cases of inmates on the state’s death row beginning in January 2023, and would significantly reshape the legal landscape of the state’s death penalty, reform advocates say.
The California Racial Justice Act for All, passed by the state legislature on August 28, 2020 and signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on September 29, provides death-row inmates with relief from punishment, or death sentences awarded “on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin.” The law, experts say, has the potential to overturn hundreds of death sentences handed down in the state since the 1970s.
“This is the largest round of the death penalty” since Newsom announced a moratorium on executions and abolished the state’s death chamber, it said. Natasha Minskeran attorney and policy advisor for the law enforcement agency California Court Light, urged passage of the bill. Under the new law, “many cases will be re-examined,” he told the San Francisco Chronicleand “[i]If the law is used as intended, most of those death sentences should be abolished.”
“Black, brown and indigenous communities have been plagued by racist policies and our prisons and courts are overcrowded for far too long,” said Fatimeh Khan, co-director of the California Recovery Committee. for the American Recovery Committee. “For those arrested on racial grounds, [the new law] It’s a step forward in fighting the systemic racism that has tainted our legal system.”
The law, which has already been proposed to bar prosecutors from seeking the death penalty because of racist comments and discriminatory practices by police and prosecutors in pending cases, is pending before the courts. to impose capital punishment or the death penalty when a judge, a lawyer, or the law. Law enforcement officers, expert witnesses, or judges in the case “expressed prejudice or hostility toward the defendant because of the defendant’s race, ethnicity, or national origin” or ” used racially discriminatory language about race, ethnicity, or national origin.” Once capital punishment or the death penalty is overturned, the law prohibits the government from seeking re-imposition or punishment. at the death penalty.
The law also requires the release of death row prisoners and/or prisoners when “[r]race, or national origin” in the prosecution of jury sentences, when county prosecutors charged or convicted them and others of their race, ethnicity or country of origin of capital murder in situations where other defendants are similarly situated. races, ethnicities, or national origins that faced non-prime charges or received lesser sentences. Relief is also required when the defendant’s death sentence is determined to be “a more severe punishment … than that imposed on other persons of similar character who have been sentenced for the same crime, and is longer or more severe severe punishments were imposed” in the council on the basis of race, race. , or the victim’s national origin.
The legislative sponsor of the new law, Assembly Member Ash Kalra (D–San Jose), said the retroactive application of the Civil Rights Act would give the courts “an opportunity to address racial differences in our penal history.”
The Death Sentencing Census has identified 1,140 death sentences imposed on 1,076 capital defendants in California since the 1970s. Although the 2021 US census indicates that African Americans are among the 6.5% of the population of California – a percentage that has remained stable for the last fifty years – they make up 34.2% of those who have been sentenced to death (368) in the state. In contrast, non-Latinx whites, who went from 78% of the state’s population in 1970 to 35.2% in 2021, represent 37.0% of those convicted of death (398). The Latinx population of the state went from 12% of the population of California in 1970 to 40.2% in 2021 and represented 23.4% of those sentenced to death (252).
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that 28% of those currently incarcerated in California prisons are Black, 45.4% are Latinx, and 20% are white.