The debate continues in the Daily Journal over whether Governor Gavin Newsom would abuse his power by commuting all the hundreds of California death sentences. It’s a question of particular importance to a large number of condemned inmates because, under the state constitution, a governor can’t grant clemency to anyone who has been “twice convicted of a felony” without the Supreme Court’s approval and the court has said it will not sign off on a clemency that would be an “abuse of . . . power.” (Procedures for Considering Requests for Recommendations Concerning Applications for Pardon or Commutation (2018) 4 Cal.5th 897, 897; see here.)

Three pro or con views appeared earlier this month. (See herehere, and here.) On Wednesday, the newspaper published a second letter from Ron Matthias, a retired California senior assistant attorney general who specialized in homicide appeals, arguing again that a blanket commutation of death sentences would be an abuse of power.

Matthias discusses what he believes are “the many case-specific dimensions of clemency that make it incompatible with ‘blanket’ application.” He also reiterates that, because governors have only a limited time to veto a bill to prevent it from becoming law and cannot at all negate an initiative passed by the voters, a wholesale nullification of death sentences is “[a]rrogating to oneself through clemency a power denied by law [that] is not an act of mercy, but of self-gratification” and is “a grievous wrong.” Matthias concludes that, “were [Newsom] ever to try anything so audacious [as a blanket commutation], the state constitution ensures—at least as to ‘the 400 or so capital inmates with two or more felonies’—that the supreme court wouldn’t be powerless to block him.”


“Commute them all, revisited”

“Clemency for death row felons would kill the will of the voters”

“Blanket commutations and twice-convicted felons”

“Commute them all”

The Supreme Court’s part in any possible commutation of all California death sentences

Governor Newsom’s death penalty actions shouldn’t affect the Supreme Court . . . yet

Claiming “racial discrimination infects the administration of California’s death penalty,” Governor submits amicus brief supporting defendant’s appeal

“Jerry Brown Has the Power to Save 740 Lives. He Should Use It.”

Despite prosecutors’ fears, still no evidence of mass (or any) death penalty commutations

Supreme Court explains its role in evaluating gubernatorial pardons and commutations