The Los Angeles Times editorial board today urges the Supreme Court to “throw[ ] out th[e] barbaric practice” of California’s death penalty. The board says the court should do so in People v. McDaniel.
Even though acknowledging the McDaniel case doesn’t present that broad issue, the Times nonetheless “hope[s] that the court recognizes the power of the moment it is in,” and it continues, “Over the past several months the nation has been forced to confront systemic racism and to recognize that the criminal justice system is not necessarily just.” The editorial says it “is incontrovertible” that “[t]he death penalty, in California as elsewhere, falls disproportionately on Black and Latino men.”
McDaniel, like all California cases in which the death penalty has been imposed, is in the Supreme Court by automatic direct appeal. It became unusually prominent when the court in June asked the Attorney General for briefing on an issue that had seemed settled against defendants — whether state statutory and constitutional law requires a penalty-phase jury that is choosing between death and life without the possibility of parole must unanimously determine beyond a reasonable doubt factually disputed aggravating evidence and the ultimate penalty verdict.
Since the supplemental briefing order, the court has received a number of amicus briefs, including ones by Governor Gavin Newsom and six current or former district attorneys. Similar to the Times editorial, the Governor’s brief argues, “California’s capital punishment scheme is now, and always has been, infected by racism,” and the district attorneys, although disagreeing among themselves about abolishing capital punishment, say that “death sentences are arbitrarily imposed under the current California death penalty statutes” and that whether the death penalty is imposed is influenced by “impermissible factors, such as the race and ethnicity of the defendant and the victim.”
[June 3, 2021 update: Los Angeles Times editorial after McDaniel oral argument — “California Supreme Court should look beyond this case and end capital punishment.”]