Impending Closure of Death Row

A couple of days ago I spoke on KCRW about the announced closure of death row at San Quentin. Here’s the story as it appeared on the KCRW website, followed by some additional thoughts from me:

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Governor Gavin Newsom announced this week a plan to shut down the notorious death row at San Quentin State Prison. The plan would move the prison’s most condemned inmates to other maximum security prisons over the next two years, in an effort to create what Newsom calls a “positive and healing environment” at the Northern California prison. 

San Quentin has the largest death row population in the nation — nearly 700 total. And while California hasn’t executed anyone in more than 15 years, Newsom also signed an executive order imposing a moratorium on executions in 2019. 

The facility was originally a ship, and in the mid 19th century, prisoners themselves built the prison, explains UC Hastings law professor Hadar Aviram. “It’s a dilapidated facility, there are no solid doors, there are bars on the doors, ventilation is terrible. So it’s a facility that was built for 19th century standards. And just because of inertia, we are still incarcerating people in the same condition.”

She points out that the facility is located in a geographically beautiful area surrounded by expensive real estate. “In many ways, [it’s] a waste to have a prison there where people don’t enjoy the seaview and are incarcerated in terrible conditions.”

However, she notes that people currently aren’t being executed due to the moratorium, and since 1978, the state executed only 13 people, and more than 100 died of natural causes during that time. 

“Just during this moratorium that Governor Newsom introduced, more people died on death row from COVID during the horrific outbreak at Quentin than we executed since 1978. So I’m sure that is giving some pause about the utility of the exercise of keeping people there,” Aviram says. 

Because San Quentin is so old, inmates there suffered from coronavirus more than those at modern and well-ventilated facilities like the state prison at Corcoran, she says. Plus, it houses lots of people who are aging and infirm, who were thus already immuno-compromised and vulnerable to the virus.  

Emotional and political reasons may be driving votes

California voters approved a ballot measure in 2016 to speed up executions, and the measure included a provision allowing death row inmates to be relocated to other prisons where they could work and pay restitution to their victims.

Aviram says over the years, there have been several attempts to abolish the death penalty through voter initiaties, but they always lost by small majorities. 

Through inquiries, polls, and conversations with people, she says she realizes: “People are voting for the death penalty largely for emotional, sentimental, political reasons. They are more in love with a fantasy of having a sentence that’s reserved for the worst of the worst, and can deter people.” 

She describes death row in California as “basically a more expensive version of life without parole that costs us $150 million a year.”

She adds, “It’s probably a good idea to think of the death penalty as undergoing the same process as some of the people who have been sentenced to death, which is rather than an execution, the death penalty is going to die a slow natural death itself, just from disuse and from this gradual dismantling.” 

However, some district attorneys continue asking for the death penalty in capital cases, though the state doesn’t execute people anymore, as they hope the governor might revive the policy, Aviram points out. However, she says, “I think that because of the national trends … it is extremely unlikely that it’s going to come back.”

Newsom’s reimagining of prisons and what’s missing

When the governor says a “positive and healing environment,” Aviram says this means a life where inmates find meaning and usefulness (do some jobs). 

But this doesn’t completely eliminate the death penalty, she says. “Because there is still one very big and expensive piece of the death penalty that is still with us — and that’s death penalty litigation.”

“We have this facility where people are sentenced to death and are still litigating themselves post-conviction, and that litigation is actually the lion’s share of the expense. So it’s only really going to go away if and when all of those sentences are commuted, and these people are no longer litigating their death sentences at the state’s expense. So that is the missing piece.”

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Some more thoughts: First, it’s been interesting to follow the fanciful, but often idle, talk about the real estate potential of Quentin. Readers who have been to Quentin know how beautiful the village is and how glorious the waterfront vistas are. There are plans to close four prisons, but no definite plans for Quentin. Any prospects of selling that land are to be viewed with ambivalence. On one hand, what a waste to have a prison so close to the water, without windows to enjoy the view – a place that combines suffering with beauty. On the other hand, it would be a terrible loss for the folks housed at Quentin, dilapidated and dangerous as it is, to be strewn about prisons in remote locations in the state, far away from the progressive energy of volunteers and rehabilitative programming richness of the Bay Area that people so desperately need for making parole. In my wildest fantasies, we close Quentin down, transform it into a resort/retreat for nonviolent communication and community healing, rebuild with huge ceiling-to-floor glass walls overlooking the ocean and gorgeous walking trails, and offer all the men well-paying jobs running the resort.

About the money: I predicted much of this demise, based on national trends, in Cheap on Crime, and still think that the deep decline of the death penalty is in no small part due to the financial crisis of 2008. The fact that we still spend a sizable pile of money on death row, despite the moratorium, is not surprising, and shows that the disingenuous efforts to save money via Prop 66 didn’t fulfill their purported purpose. In 2016, when giving talks about this, I used to draw the triangle of home improvement; write in its three corners: good, fast, and cheap; and tell people, “you can have two.” We can’t compromise on having a “good” death penalty (one in which there are no constitutional violations and factual mistakes), and so, it cannot be fast or cheap. The big savings will only roll in when we get rid of the litigation piece.

There’s no better proof that the death penalty is on its last leg than the fact that Joseph Diangelo, the Golden State Killer, was sentenced to life without parole. If not the most notorious and heinous criminal in the history of California, then who? And the logic in Diangelo’s case applies to everyone else–why the death penalty? So they can continue litigating at the state’s expense and die a natural death? Whose interests does this serve?

About the actual job of relocating death row people to other prisons/general population: this is going to be a complicated and delicate job, and my fear is that it will be entrusted to folks who are not tuned in to the complexities. They would be moving people who have been effectively “at home” in solitary confinement in unique conditions, many of them for several decades, into facilities with much younger people and a very different energy. There could be animosities and alliances that are difficult to predict and go beyond crude racial/gang affiliations. This is true, generally speaking, for every prison transfer (long time readers remember the fears and concerns surrounding CDCR’s plan to comply with the landmark decision in Von Staich through transfers to other facilities); in the case of the death penalty, there are other factors, not the least of which is the unique combination of notoriety and frailness of the people to be transferred.

There’s also the question whether dismantling death row, what with its symbolic hold over the Californian imagination, slows down the dismantling of the death penalty itself. Without the physical reminder of the remnants of this archaic punishment, and with the growing resemblance of the death penalty to the two other members of the “extreme punishment trifecta” (life with and without parole), does the effort to abolish the death penalty lose its steam? The uphill battle for activists will be to spin this development to argue that the death penalty has been defanged beyond its utility; now that we’re left with only its negative aspects (to the extent that some people think it has advantages) it’s time to stop hemorrhaging state funds for incessant litigation.

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Today I’m at the Annual Meeting of the Western Society of Criminology, speaking about FESTER. My panel starts at 8:15am island time in the Waianae room – come say hi!

Series Review: Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer

Netflix’s new docuseries about the hunt for Richard Ramirez, known as the Night Stalker, comes to our computer screens at an interesting cultural moment, in which national and state responses to heinous crimes are in flux. As the bicameral Democratic legislature of the Biden administration prepares to get rid of the federal death penalty, the Trump administration finishes its four-year tour of gratuitous cruelty with gratuitous executions happening at the eleventh hour with the blessing of SCOTUS and to the horror of the court’s progressive minority; several people have observed the irony of lethal injections happening at the federal level just as death row people here in CA get the first injection of the COVID vaccine. This throwback to bloodthirstier decades comes as a majority of Americans, for the first time since the sixties, now support life imprisonment over the death penalty. Half the states retain the death penalty and half (growing since the recession) have abolished it or placed moratoria upon its use; if Virginia moves forward with abolition, not only will it be the first Southern state to abolish capital punishment, but also a majority of states will have abolished/sunset the death penalty. Here in California, more people have died on death row from COVID-19 under Gov. Newsom’s moratorium than we have executed since the return of the death penalty in 1978. Ramirez himself–the subject of the new docuseries–was the 85th person to die on California’s death row of natural causes in 2013. And just recently, Joseph DeAngelo, whose horrific crimes as the Golden State Killer are eerily similar to Ramirez’s, was sentenced to life imprisonment, raising the fair question–if not him, then who?

Against this backdrop, the choice to focus now on Ramirez and his heinous crimes is a curious one, and the series does not offer a lot in the sense of narrative or cinematic innovation to justify the subject. The story is told from the perspective of two intelligent and sympathetic LAPD detectives–then-newcomer Gil Carrillo and veteran Frank Salerno–and several retired crime scene technicians, who in four episodes follow through the trail of horrific murders. The still shots from the various murder scenes are enhanced through cinematography that somewhat brings them to life and accompanied by chilling music. Thankfully, at least the victims themselves–both those deceased and those who survived–are portrayed with restraint and respect, and on occasion (albeit not always, which struck me as somewhat distasteful) their relatives comment on their lives, evoking sympathy and humanity. These graceful interview scenes lift the series from a sequence of excessive gore, and I wish there were more of them.

As to Ramirez himself, the show does not delve much into his own mind beyond short, clichéd quotes about the “inherent evil in all human kind” and “Satan [as] a stabilizing presence” displayed between scenes. Having read and watched a lot of the Manson literary and cinematic canon, I think a deliberate choice was made here not to glorify Ramirez in a similar way. At some point, one of the detectives even said that they considered whether Ramirez was a Manson copycat, which strengthens my belief that this approach was carefully considered. The choice not to follow the legacy of Mansonist efforts to delve into the minds of heinous murderers a-la Dahmer, only recently continued with Aquarius and Mindhunter, means the focus of the show is mostly on the police investigation.

But even here, the show’s coverage of the LAPD’s eponymous “hunt” offers some contradictions. Carrillo and Salerno are sympathetic, interesting interviewees; Carrillo’s background is explored in depth, including his early prescient conclusion that seemingly unrelated crimes were perpetrated by the same person. He attributes this insight to a class he had taken, in which Robert Morneau referred to “a deviancy that says, ‘I like to see the frightened look on your face.'” Rather than digging into the motivation, this illuminated Carrillo’s crime scene analyses and explained why the murders were perpetrate in a particular way (i.e., why the killer had waited for the victims to see him, rather than kill them from behind or in their cars.) But at the same time, we get glimpses into what appears to be epic incompetence in interagency collaboration. A golden opportunity to zone in on the killer through a distinctive sneaker shoeprint was wasted, even though only one pair of black sneakers of that brand had been shipped to Los Angeles. Similarly, the opportunity to fingerprint a car that the suspect had touched in the course of a traffic stop was squandered. And amazingly, a clever trap at Ramirez’s dentist’s office did not function. Eventually, Ramirez was caught not by police officers, who allowed him to walk before them unnoticed after his appearance was already well known, but by alert members of the public. The focus on Carrillo and Salerno’s solid crime scene investigation draws attention from the sad conclusion that, had the LAPD had their act together and collaborated, Ramirez would have been caught earlier and lives would have been saved. Having studied the Manson murders in detail, it seems that little was learned since the fiascos of the Tate-LaBianca investigations, which were also characterized by department siloing and insularity (Bugliosi is full of braggadocio about his own heroic role in the case and very eager to throw blame onto the LAPD, but at least in that instance the objective facts seem to support his perspective.)

Even as the focus on audacity, deductive work, and targeted legwork draws attention away from omissions and organizational hurdles, Night Stalker is a reminder of what good policing should be. It is poignant to watch an investigation in the 1980s, with 1980s technology, as the FBI pieces together last week’s insurrection at the Capitol and attempts to track down the perpetrators, a job much easier than Carrillo and Salerno’s because of the plethora of social media evidence and the availability of facial recognition technology. It is also poignant to think about the most recent example of excellence in policing: Capitol police officer Eugene Goodman’s clever, creative, and courageous act of baiting and tricking the mob away from the unguarded door behind which the legislators hid, armed only with a nightstick and facing dozens of angry insurrectionists yelling racial epithets at him. As I’ve said many times before, I don’t think the problem is too little or two much policing; it’s the wrong kind of policing altogether, which relies on crude, humiliating, and ineffective methods like stop-and-frisk at the direct expense of the classic crime solving work features in the Night Stalker. Give me a police force full of Eugene Goodmans, Gil Carrillos, and Frank Salernos, and I’ll be a happy camper. If the show reminds us (and the FBI, and the LAPD) that good policing is valuable and scarce, then it has been a worthwhile endeavor.

Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer is available on Netflix.

New Death Penalty Abolition Bill

There’s a new bill, introduced by Assemblymembers Levine and Chiu and coauthored by Assemblymembers Friedman, Gipson, and Stone and Senator Weiner to abolish the death penalty. The bill does not include a retroactive provision to commute current death sentences to LWOP.

The bill will likely pass in the legislature, but because it requires a constitutional amendment it will be on the ballot. This does not have a history of success, as Austin Sarat explains in this book. But since 2016, when we tried this last, six big things have changed, which may improve the odds:

  1. Twenty-two states have abolished the death penalty and three have moratoria on its use. A critical mass of states can now be said to have given it up.
  2. Since the beginning of this pandemic, more people have died of COVID-19 on death row alone than we’ve executed since the death penalty was reintroduced in 1978.
  3. Because of the death penalty moratorium, we won’t be executing anyone else anytime soon – but we’re still footing the bill of death penalty litigation.
  4. The Golden State Killer got life without parole. If not him, then who?
  5. One of California’s major killer counties, L.A. County, will cease to seek death sentences under new D.A. George Gascón.
  6. The recent Trump/Barr killing spree at the federal level has disgusted and reviled millions of people.

I think these developments have altered the landscape considerably enough to merit another try at abolition.

The Cruelty Is the Point: Trump Administration, At Its Twilight, Tinkers with the Machinery of Death

This morning I spoke with Lisa Chan of KCBS about another last-minute death penalty stunt of the Trump/Barr injustice machine: the reintroduction of gas and firing squads as permissible execution methods. CNN reports:

The Justice Department has rushed to change the rules around federal death penalties as they expedite a slew of scheduled executions in the final days of the Trump administration, including expanding possible execution methods to include electrocution and death by firing squad.

The approved amendment to the “Manner of Federal Executions” rule gives federal prosecutors a wider variety of options for execution in order to avoid delays if the state in which the inmate was sentenced doesn’t provide other alternatives.

It’s hard to make sense of the motivation behind this move. The last slew of federal executions won’t require it, as per the Washington Post:

Five federal inmates are scheduled to be executed in the coming weeks before Joe Biden is sworn in as president, though a Justice Department official said four of those — Lisa Montgomery, Brandon Bernard, Alfred Bourgeois and Cory Johnson — will be killed by lethal injection. The official declined to address the fifth case, of Dustin John Higgs, citing pending litigation.

The official said the rule change, first proposed in August, was meant so that federal executions would be carried out in line with state law, adding “the federal government will never execute an inmate by firing squad or electrocution unless the relevant state has itself authorized that method of execution.”

A few weeks ago, when this incomprehensible appetite for blood in the face of so many COVID-19 deaths started, I wrote that it felt like the last, vicious whiplash of a dying mythical beast. As I explained there, 22 states have abolished the death penalty and three have moratoria on its use; even retentive states rarely use it. As opposed to everything else Trump has done in office, this is at least ideologically consistent: he’s been an enthusiastic supporter of the death penalties since the 1980s, when he was in the habit of taking out large ads and giving interviews supporting the death penalty for the Central Park Five (later exonerated.) In the early days of his presidency, he tried to make headlines supporting the death penalty for drug dealers. This last move to bring back archaic execution methods is more of the same, but feels especially pointless given that Biden opposes the death penalty and has promised to work for its abolition. It’s also pointless because any hypothetical effort to use this will immediately drown in Eighth Amendment litigation, which will surely raise the always-present risk of botched executions. We could dismiss it as one more of the many spiteful, meanspirited ways in which this administration is determined to incinerate itself for the sole purpose of creating more mess for Biden’s people to clean up, except for the fact that it will claim real lives.

Given how much loss we’re facing, some might wonder why make a big deal out of these planned executions. It’s also true that, within criminal justice, this all involves a negligible number of cases that disproportionately eat up attention and funds. But these cases are crystallized versions of the injustices and iniquities we see throughout the criminal justice system. Take, for example, the impending execution of Lisa Montgomery, who committed a heinous murder and, at the same time, has been horrifically victimized all her life. Montgomery’s case commands attention because the death penalty is irreversible, but how reversible, really, are the consequences of incarceration visited on hundreds of thousands of incarcerated women, 53 of whom have a lifetime prevalence of PTSD and the vast majority of whom have been victims of violence? The life continues, but the suffering that happens cannot be undone.

These last-minute moves, likely to be reversed as soon as the new administration begins, seem spiteful, exaggerated, and odd. But when you think of the real people in line to be executed and the painful debates this is sparking amidst a dying death penalty, and are tempted to ask yourself, “what is the point?” – The answer, as Adam Serwer so memorably put it, is: the cruelty is the point.

Essential Readings for CCC3: COVID-19 Meets Mass Incarceration

In anticipation of our upcoming symposium about COVID-19 and mass incarceration, here are a few sources that our attendees might like to read. It’s not an exhaustive list; rather, it focuses on some of the themes we will be covering throughout the symposium.

Prisons, Disease, Medicine

Ashley Rubin, Prisons and jails are coronavirus epicenters – but they were once designed to prevent disease outbreaks, The Conversation, April 15, 2020

Misha Lepetic, Foucault’s Plague, 3 Quarks Daily, March 4, 2013

Margo Schlanger, Plata v. Brown and Realignment: Jails, Prisons, Courts, and Politics, Harvard Civil Rights–Civil Liberties Law Review 48(1) 2013: 165-215.

Osagie Obasogie, Prisoners as Human Subjects: A Closer Look at the Institute of Medicine’s Recommendations to Loosen Current Restrictions on Using Prisoners in Scientific Research, Stanford Journal of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties 6(1) 2010: 41.

COVID-19 In Prisons

Brendan Saloner, Kalind Parish, Julie A. Ward, Grace DiLaura, Sharon Dolovich, COVID-19 Cases and Deaths in Federal and State Prisons, JAMA, July 8, 2020

Hadar Aviram, Triggers and Vulnerabilities: Why California Prisons Are So Vulnerable to COVID-19, and What to Do About It, Tropics of Meta, July 3, 2020

Hadar Aviram, California’s COVID-19 Prison Disaster and the Trap of Palatable Reform, BOOM California, August 10, 2020

Sharon Dolovich, Mass Incarceration, Meet COVID-19, University of Chicago Law Review Online, Nov. 2020

Matthew J. Akiyama, M.D., Anne C. Spaulding, M.D., and Josiah D. Rich, M.D., Flattening the Curve for Incarcerated Populations — Covid-19 in Jails and Prisons, The New England Journal of Medicine, May 2020

Oluwadamilola T. Oladeru, Nguyen-Toan Tran, Tala Al-Rousan, Brie Williams & Nickolas Zaller, A Call to Protect Patients, Correctional Staff and Healthcare Professionals in Jails and Prisons during the COVID-19 Pandemic, Health and Justice, July 2, 2020

The San Quentin Catastrophe

Megan Cassidy and Jason Fagone, 200 Chino inmates transferred to San Quentin, Corcoran. Why weren’t they tested first? San Francisco Chronicle, June 8, 2020

AMEND SF and UC Berkeley, Urgent Memo – COVID-19 Outbreak: San Quentin Prison, June 15, 2020

Megan Cassidy, San Quentin officials ignored coronavirus guidance from top Marin County health officer, letter says, San Francisco Chronicle, August 11, 2020

Al Jazeera Front Lines, Pandemic in Prison: The San Quentin Outbreak, October 28, 2020

In re Von Staich on Habeas Corpus, A160122, California Court of Appeal for the First District, October 20, 2020

Solutions and Policies

Hadar Aviram, Gov. Newsom’s Release Plan Is Not Enough, San Francisco Chronicle, July 10, 2020

James King and Danica Rodarmel, Gov. Newsom must release more people from prisons to protect Californians and save lives, The Sacramento Bee, July 11, 2020

Jason Fagone, California could cut its prison population in half and free 50,000 people. Amid pandemic, will the state act? San Francisco Chronicle, August 16, 2020

Ruth Wilson Gilmore in conversation with Naomi Murakawa, Haymarket Books, April 17, 2020

Reproductive Justice, Women, and Gender in CA Prisons

Sulipa Jindia, Belly of the Beast: California’s dark history of forced sterilizations, The Guardian, June 30, 2020

Jason Fagone, Women’s prison journal: State inmate’s daily diary during pandemic, San Francisco Chronicle, June 14, 2020

Valerie Jenness, Transgender Prisoners in America, September 5, 2016

AJ Rio-Glick, COVID-19 Adds to Challenges for Trans People in California’s Prisons, Vera Institute of Justice Blog, July 7, 2020

COVID-19 in Immigration Detention Facilities

COVID-19 in Jails, Prisons, and Immigration Detention Centers: A Q&A with Chris Beyrer, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, September 15, 2020

American Bar Foundation, Impact of COVID-19 on the Immigration System

Carmen Molina Acosta, Psychological Torture: ICE Responds to COVID-19 with Solitary Confinement, The Intercept, August 24, 2020

Book Review: Karen Morin, Carceral Spaces, Prisoners and Animals

My two biggest research interests–criminal justice and animal rights–come together in Karen Morin’s new book Carceral Spaces, Prisoners and Animals (New York: Routledge, 2018.) Morin, a geographer by discipline, applies insights from carceral geography to both human and nonhuman confinement contexts.

Carceral geography is a growing area of scholarship that examines prisons through a lens of spatiality. Building on work by Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben, carceral geographers problematize the overly simplistic notion of prisons as carceral spaces, arguing that prison boundaries are porous and that carceral ideologies of domination through confinement permeate spaces beyond the prison–beyond the formal dichotomy between “inside” and “outside.” Some themes studied by carceral geographers include spaces within prison and how they affect the experience of incarceration (“public” and “private” spaces within the prison; the impact of prison on the body); the interface between prisons and surrounding communities (prison towns, family members, transportation); mobility within and between prisons; and prison architecture and design. Carceral geography is directly relevant to my current research project, which is a book in progress about the COVID-19 catastrophe in California prisons; I rely a lot on the idea of prison permeability, which brings together notions of carceral boundaries, logics of opportunity (for people and for the virus,) insights from situational crime prevention, and miasma theory. In addition to this, I’m deeply interested in animal rights, and am working on a project involving the criminal prosecutions of animal rights activists who break into factory farms to release suffering animals.

In many ways, my interest in liberating nonhuman animals is an obvious extension of my interest in alleviating suffering in prisons. But the comparison is socially fraught from many directions. I often hear prison reform activists and abolitionists criticize prisons for treating people “like animals,” as if treating animals this way is fine; I’ve also heard animal rights activists criticize experimentation on animals, proposing to experiment on prisoners instead (Justin Marceau criticizes the myopic assumptions of the latter phenomenon in Beyond Cages.) I’ve also had to contend with people who find the comparison deeply offensive. Morin is well aware of these emotional and political landmines and writes:

I recognize though that the politics and ethics of making comparisons between racialized and classed human lives and that of nonhuman animals in respective carceral spaces can be problematic and fraught. It is challenging for humans who are embedded in violent, racialized, and criminalized human histories and spaces to not be offended by posthumanist comparisons to animal suffering. As noted above, the category of ‘human’ is contested in any case, and it is important to not move too quickly ‘beyond the human’ without acknowledging the continued exclusion of many human lives from full incorporation within it. And yet thinking particularly about race and animals together is important, precisely because of the way that racialized people have been and continue to be animalized in carceral spaces (Chapter 3). Moreover, the carceral logics of domination are intertwined across human and nonhuman groups. To take one more example, as Deckha (2013b) has shown, animal anti-cruelty legislation has the double effect of selecting certain animals for protection while targeting the behaviors of certain minoritized populations of people as deviant and transgressive. Meanwhile, industrial practices involving the dominant culture – as well as the abuse and killing of most animals – remain immune from critique.

Morin, Karen M.. Carceral Space, Prisoners and Animals (Routledge Human-Animal Studies Series) (p. 15). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

This avenue is deeply productive, not only because the analogies and similarities are analytically interesting, but because solidarity across movements is essential for success. Morin’s analysis ties together the prison-, agricultural-, and medical industrial complexes, showing the intricate connections between them and the profit logics that underpin them.

Morin’s book proceeds to analyze a series of contexts in which she sees parallel developments between human and nonhuman carceral spaces. She compares execution chambers and slaughterhouses, discussing the notions of “humane” slaughter and of death sentences that are supposedly not “cruel and unusual.” She discusses the intersection of the medical and carceral spaces in the context of medical experimentation. She even asks difficult questions about prison boundaries when discussing zoos and supermax facilities. The book also makes an important contribution to two seemingly unrelated growing literatures: the one about forced labor in prisons and the one about the possibility and structure of labor rights for nonhuman animals. Throughout these topics, Morin shows deep sensitivity to the broader social structures that allow cruelty to persist.

My favorite part is Morin’s comparative analysis of prison towns and cattle towns. She shows how the introduction of an exploitative industry into a “company town” shapes the economy and the tenor of the entire town, without granting much in the way of economic benefit to the town itself (by contrast to the industry that exploits the town.) Morin doesn’t explicitly say this, but a big thing here seems the creation of a municipality that is collectively impermeable to compassion, which I think is a serious issue even when the industry is profitable.

We often talk about dehumanizing conditions in prisons. But perhaps the question is not whether or not we’re all human; the question that should matter is whether we are sentient and whether we suffer. A few years ago I read Michael Dorf and Sherry Colb’s Beating Hearts, which compares the logics of sentience underpinning the pro-life and animal rights movements and finds a way to reconcile them into a cohesive pro-choice and pro-animal perspective. I think there’s a way for advocates and activists to find peace with Morin’s comparison in a way that allows them to support both movements.

Morin admits that she has not analyzed all the scenarios that her comparison speaks to, and I found at least two that I would like to read future works on. The first has to do with the concept of overcrowding. Morin discusses issues of caging in depth, but the book does not delve into the movement toward humane farming and “cage-free” chicken facilities. Now a major selling point for eggs and for pig meats, the notion of no-cage or no-crate is deeply misleading, and some states, such as California, use various parameters to try and measure overcrowding. I’ve seen parallel developments in the context of prison population reduction orders. It’s no big secret that I think the measuring yard used in Brown v. Plata–percentage of design capacity systemwide–was deeply shortsighted, and a more careful calculation of minimal per-person area, as in other countries, would have helped us mitigate the COVID-19 catastrophe we’re experiencing right now.

The second issue I would want to read more about has to do with movement strategy, and with the reform-versus-revolution debate in the prison advocacy community. There is a parallel debate–quite a heated one–in the animal ethics community, between animal welfarism and animal liberation. Movement strategy and tactics, attention to incremental reform, and the use of the criminal justice process to challenge cruelty and obtuseness are relevant to both movements, and I think there’s more room to write about this.

These two issues notwithstanding, the book makes a fascinating read. Unfortunately, Routledge has priced it quite prohibitively, but prospective readers should know that you can rent it from Amazon for a reasonable price.

BREAKING NEWS: California Court of Appeal Orders 50% Population Reduction at San Quentin

I am thrilled to provide this update: We won In re Von Staich, the habeas corpus case challenging CDCR’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis at San Quentin. Justice Kline wrote: “We agree that respondents–the Warden and CDCR–have acted with deliberate indifference and relief is warranted.” Here is an analysis of the opinion.

Justice Kline begins by stating the magnitude of the San Quentin catastrophe. Even against the horrific history of disease and contagion in prisons–including three separate spikes of the Spanish Flu in 1918–the San Quentin COVID-19 outbreak is “the worst epidemiological disaster in California correctional history.” He then highlights the physicians’ urgent memo (published after they visited San Quentin, at the Receiver’s invitation) recommending a 50% reduction of the prison population. CDCR’s response fell far short of this: between March and August 2020 they achieved a mere 23% reduction, “accomplished, in part, by suspending intake at San Quentin from county jails, which has increased the presence of COVID-19 in those local facilities, and is not likely sustainable.”

Justice Kline then rejects the evasive maneuvers employed by the AG’s office, who tried to play jurisdictional hide-and-seek by claiming that the San Quentin litigation effort was somehow “duplicative” of the federal case Plata v. Newsom. First, the court wrote, San Quentin is a particular, antiquated prison with specific problems, which are not the focus of the federal litigation. Second, these habeas cases are designed to ask for temporary relief, rather than the more systematic remedies sought in Plata. Third, state courts are not limited and bound by the PLRA, as federal courts are. And fourth, which I found inspiring, state courts have the duty and competence to vindicate rights under the California Constitution (which, just like the U.S. Constitution, forbids cruel and unusual punishment–albeit worded slightly differently.)

The court also rejected the AG’s office’s delay tactics, asking that the case be moved back to the Superior Court and/or that an evidentiary hearing be held. As Justice Kline explains, the AG’s declarations that the doctors have it wrong and that a 50% reduction is unnecessary were “conclusions the Attorney General has failed to support with any factual allegations contradicting petitioner’s allegations,” which were based on scientists’ and physicians’ declarations–even with testimony from their own prison physicians. Under these circumstances, “the issue before us is simply whether respondents’ disregard of the experts’ conclusion that a 50 percent population reduction is essential constitutes the ‘deliberate indifference’ necessary to sustain petitioner’s constitutional claim. The issue is one of law, not fact.”

Was CDCR’s response to the risk of infection–of which they concede they were subjectively aware–adequate? They established a central command; installed a tent structure; repurposed the chapel and a furniture factory to care for COVID-19 patients; provided PPE to the population and staff; and released 947 people. At the hearing, the AG representatives claimed that the reduction in case numbers at San Quentin was thanks to these efforts.

The Court of Appeal vehemently disagreed. Relying on the analysis of experts, the Court agreed with us that the reduction in cases was not because, but despite, CDCR’s behavior. The decision quotes Dr. Beyrer: “Had San Quentin done nothing, the rates of infection there would have been roughly the same.” And, while the steps the prison took to alleviate the risk were commendable, they were insufficient without the population reduction, which they refused to do.

The next bit is especially interesting. The AG boasted that they managed to bring the prison population down to a bit more than 100%. Of course, as Justice Kline writes, in a facility such as San Quentin, full occupancy cannot allow for the social distancing needed to fight the pandemic. He quotes extensively from AMEND’s urgent memo, which detailed conditions in specific areas of the prison, notably North Block and West Block, showing that the combination of crowding and high-risk people was unsustainable. What interests me most about this is the extent to which the AG’s office and CDCR have become habituated to the toxic perspective according to which having their prisons 100% is a desirable end, rather than an unhealthy point of departure. We’ve had bloated prisons bursting at the seams for so long that we seem to think that a full prison at “only” 100% is fine.

The opinion then hits the nail on the head: as I explained elsewhere, the release plans are specifically designed to exclude people serving time for “a violent crime as defined by law” when such people are approximately 30% of the prison population. The AG argued that this is reasonable policy, because they, as opposed to the physicians who authored the memo, have to take into account public safety. To that, the Court has two replies. First, the prison authorities may resolve the Quentin problem not just through releases, but through transfers (though the court does mention that a botched transfer is what started this catastrophe in the first place. Second, and more importantly, even from a public safety perspective, lifers are the most obvious target population for release: they don’t pose public safety risks because they’ve aged out of crime, and they themselves face a heightened risk for COVID-19. Justice Kline writes: “Exclusion of lifers and other older prisoners who have committed violent offenses and served lengthy prison terms is also difficult to defend, given their low risk for future violence and high risk of infection and serious illness from the virus.”

Justice Kline spends several pages citing robust legal, sociological, and medical materials to show the folly of excluding lifers and strikers from release programs. He refers not only to steps taken by the CA legislature, but to the robust literature on life-course criminology, which constantly finds age a significant factor in desistance. Despite their authority to order the release of aging people who committed violent crimes, and statistics about prison demographics that they themselves provide, the AG’s insistence on mostly ignoring this category of obvious release candidates “render[s] it doubtful whether a 50 percent reduction in San Quentin’s population could soon take place.”

This behavior by prison authorities satisfies the “deliberate indifference” standard; they conceded they knew the risk, and they are recklessly failing to take the necessary steps physicians recommended, while not providing any factual justification. The continued use of spaces in which people sleep in close proximity “is not merely negligent, it is reckless”–and “the recklessness is aggravated by respondents’ refusal to consider the expedited release, or transfer, of prisoners who are serving time for violent offenses but who have aged out of a propensity for violence.”

As to petitioner, Ivan Von Staich, the Court has ordered his immediate release from San Quentin. Von Staich was recommended for parole on October 16, but the Governor can weigh his case for four months, and in the meantime he must be released or transferred to a different facility. In addition, the Court agreed that the habeas corpus process allows them to extend relief to similarly situated people. However, the Court opines that “it would be inappropriate to order the release of prisoners we considerd vulnerable even if we thought we had the power to do so in this proceeding.” The Court raises three concerns in this respect: one, that medical vulnerability is a question of “scientific facts, not law”; two, that they are unsure whether they can extend relief to people who did not file a habeas petition; and three, that the appropriate social distancing via releases/transfers can be created not only by transferring vulnerable prisoners out of San Quentin, but also by releasing other people in sufficient numbers to allow for social distancing or the remaining prisoners.

“Nevertheless,” writes Justice Kline, “we are not without means to expedite the release or transfer from San Quentin of more inmates than are now deemed eligible for release.” These means are provided by Section 1484 of the California Penal Code, which allows the Court such course of action. The Court cites numerous California cases that involved injunctive relief through Habeas. By this authority, the Court orders CDCR to bring the CDCR population down to 50%–“no more than 1,775 inmates.” The Court leaves the manner of doing so in the hands of CDCR, though Justice Kline does offer, as possibilities, “expanding eligibility for the two expedited release programs currently limited to inmates not serving sentences for violent offenses to inmates like Petitioner, who are over age 60 and completed minimum terms of at least 25 years.” Note that, despite the Court’s conciliatory words that CDCR is free to achieve the population reduction in whichever way they like, the decision discusses at length the fact that ignoring aging people serving long sentences for violent crimes is what stands in the way of achieving the desired reduction. The order specifically mentions the criteria above (over the age of 60 with 25 years incarceration) and also makes reference to the need to speed up the Elderly Parole Program.

Because of the need to act rapidly to save lives, the decision becomes final in 15 days, and the Court refers the parties to the Marin Superior Court for future disputes.

Wonderful Review of Yesterday’s Monsters in the SF Chronicle

I’m very happy to share a great review of Yesterday’s Monsters written by Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Review: ‘Yesterday’s Monsters’ shows parole system’s flaws in Manson cases

Bob Egelko September 30, 2020 Updated: September 30, 2020, 7:28 am

Susan Atkins, convicted of eight murders as a member of Charles Manson’s “family,” was dying of cancer when she made her 18th appearance before the California parole board in September 2009, after nearly 40 years in prison. Bedridden for 18 months and barely able to speak or move, she remained largely silent while her husband and attorney, James Whitehouse, asked the board to release her to a hospice, which he said he would pay for.

In response, relatives of Manson’s victims recalled the horrors of the 1969 killings. A Los Angeles prosecutor, Patrick Sequeira, called the family a “criminal terrorist organization” and said Atkins “has tried to minimize her involvement in the crime.” The board swiftly decided Atkins “poses an unreasonable risk if released” and denied parole for at least three more years. Atkins, 61, died of brain cancer 22 days later.

The incident is the most graphic but far from the only illustration of a malfunctioning system in “Yesterday’s Monsters: The Manson Family Cases and the Illusion of Parole” by Hadar Aviram, a professor at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco who specializes in criminal law and civil rights.

The state Board of Parole Hearings shows “a clear preference for looking back and discussing the past (rather) than for the future, sometimes astonishingly ignoring terminal illness and old age when discussing future risk,” Aviram writes. And that, she notes, is the opposite of its assigned task of determining whether a prisoner who has served many years for past wrongdoing can now be safely released.

The book is a study, not an exposé — there are nearly 800 footnotes — but its language is everyday and accessible. Discussing inmates’ need to display “insight” into their crimes to be found suitable for parole, for example, Aviram writes, “the Board continuously moves the goal posts.” It’s aimed at two sets of readers, those who care about the workings of the criminal justice system and those with enduring memories of the Manson nightmare (this reviewer fits both categories).

Convicted mass murderer Charles Manson listens to the panel at his 1986 parole hearing in San Quentin prison.Photo: Eric Risberg, Associated Press 1986

It may not be fair to judge any criminal justice process by its response to extremes, and the Manson cases are about as extreme as they come. For reasons that remain unclear — some say Manson wanted to start a race war, others simply describe a cult obsessed with drugs, sex and violence — he ordered seven of his followers, including Atkins and two other young women, to kill nine people in three gruesome attacks in the Los Angeles area in July and August 1969. After the fatal stabbing of actress Sharon Tate, Atkins scrawled “PIG” in Tate’s blood on the front door of the home.

Manson, Atkins and three others were sentenced to death in 1971. But the state Supreme Court overturned California’s death penalty law in 1972, and all death sentences were reduced to life in prison with the possibility of parole; only under the subsequent law, passed by legislators in 1977 and expanded by the voters in 1978, were capital cases made punishable solely by death or life without parole.

Meanwhile, lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown, serving the first of his four terms in office, were remaking California’s sentencing and parole structure.

Discussing inmates’ need to display “insight” into their crimes to be found suitable for parole, for example, Hadar Aviram writes, “the Board continuously moves the goal posts.”Photo: Jana Asenbrennerova

Previously, nearly all crimes were punishable by a range of terms — 1 to 5 years, for example, or 5 to 20 — and a parole board that included psychologists and other professionals decided when a prisoner was fit for release. The system came under attack from both the left, as racially prejudiced, and the right, as unduly lenient, and was replaced in 1977 by “determinate” sentences for most crimes — two, four or six years, for example, with the sentencing judge making the choice.

Only “lifers,” those convicted of murder or a few other crimes, such as kidnapping, would now appear before the parole board, after a designated period, to seek their release. And board members were appointed by the governor, who generally chose law enforcement professionals skeptical of claims of rehabilitation.

The parole board’s occasional decisions to approve release were made subject to the governor’s veto by a 1988 initiative. A 2008 initiative called Marsy’s Law requires inmates who are denied parole to wait 15 years for their next hearing — five times the previous interval — unless the board finds “clear and convincing evidence” to justify an earlier hearing.

“Yesterday’s Monsters” focuses on a Board of Parole Hearings that is supposed to look forward, not backward. The state Supreme Court underscored that mission in a 2008 ruling that prohibited both the board and the governor from denying parole based solely on the gruesome nature of the crime — though, in a frequently cited exception, the court said the board could consider an inmate’s lack of “insight” into the offense.

Participants in the Manson family hearings, in transcripts quoted in the book, have focused largely on the past — understandably, in light of the events that gave rise to the hearings.

In 2013, Debra Tate speaks about her sister, actress Sharon Tate, who was killed by the Manson family, during a parole hearing for former Manson family member Leslie Van Houten at the California Institution for Women in Chino.Photo: Nick Ut, Associated Press 2013

At one hearing for Patricia Krenwinkel, Aviram says, prosecutor Sequeira declared, “I think if she had true remorse and she truly understood her crimes and the horrific nature of it, she wouldn’t be here at a parole hearing. She would just accept a punishment.”

Relatives of the victims were equally unforgiving.

“There are eight people that lie in their graves who remain unchanged, unrehabilitated, unparoled,” Anthony Demaria, a nephew of murder victim Jay Sebring, said at Krenwinkel’s 2011 hearing. “I beg the board to consider parole for Patricia Krenwinkel only when her victims are paroled from their graves.”

At another hearing, board members asked Krenwinkel why she wasn’t attending drug-treatment programs and shrugged off her explanation that her high-security custody barred her from the nighttime classes.

At a 1981 hearing, the board was unimpressed by ex-Mansonite Bruce Davis’ leadership position with a Christian counseling group in prison. One board member, Aviram notes, said Davis had merely switched his allegiance from “one god-like figure to another.”

When Manson follower Leslie Van Houten appeared before the board in 2013, Aviram says, she had a strong record of participation in prison rehabilitation programs, with a few minor violations, the last one in 1981. The board denied parole on the grounds that she lacked insight into her life before imprisonment: “You need to demonstrate what made you that person to engage in those acts so long ago.”

Three years later, with Van Houten’s record substantially the same, the board recommended her release but was overridden by Brown’s veto, events replicated under Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019. Steve “Clem” Grogan, a relatively minor participant in the crimes, was paroled in 1985. Manson, denied parole at 12 hearings, died in prison in 2017 at age 83. His other co-defendants remain behind bars.

In 2013, Leslie Van Houten appears during her parole hearing, with her attorney, Michael Satris (left). Parole was denied.Photo: Nick Ut, Associated Press 2013

In one sense, the timing of the 1969 murders spared Manson and his cohorts from more severe punishment. Had they committed their crimes a decade later, some of the Family almost certainly would have been executed, and others would have had no opportunity for parole. And it seems safe to say that few Californians who remember the killings will shed tears at the prospect that Manson’s followers who are still in prison will probably die there.

But that doesn’t contradict the message that Aviram convincingly presents: If the parole system had worked as it was supposed to, based on the law and the policies underlying it, most of the participants in the murders, other than Manson himself, eventually would have been released.

The Board of Parole Hearings, the author concludes, “should not be the arbiter of moral goodness.”

I’d like to have seen a bit more context, comparing these parole decisions to others here and elsewhere, and perhaps some background on the parole board members, sometimes identified only by last names in the book. But as California rethinks the roles of imprisonment and parole in this COVID-19, post-Three Strikes era, “Yesterday’s Monsters” has some lessons for today.

“Yesterday’s Monsters: The Manson Family Cases and the Illusion of Parole”
By Hadar Aviram
(University of California Press; 294 pages; 29.95)

  • Bob Egelko Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: begelko@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @BobEgelko

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2020 Presidential Endorsement: Biden-Harris

As has been my custom, I’m going to provide blog endorsements for criminal justice propositions and candidates as the November election approaches. Today we start with the top of the ticket–candidates for President and Vice-President.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been getting dozens of idiotic political fundraising gambits via email and text. One of my favorites was the faux survey: “Do you prefer Sanders and Klobuchar/Biden and Warren/Harris and Castro to Trump and Pence?” To which I often replied, “I prefer a colonoscopy and a root canal to Trump and Pence.” I think what we have here is not what I would have wanted, but it’s nowhere near a colonoscopy and a root canal, and it’s a light-years-far cry from Trump-Pence.

***

Suppose, for your birthday, you receive a catalog with two gift choices: a steaming pile of poop and a basketball. You must have one or the other; if you pick, you get the one you chose, and if you don’t pick, one will be chosen for you. You can’t opt out. Alas, you wanted a pony. But a pony is not on offer.

What do you do? You might pout, you might shout, but eventually you pick the basketball. Because there’s something you know for sure: you don’t want the pile of poop.

You don’t scribble, “I WANTED A PONY!!!!!” with your colored pencils all over the catalog. There is no #%^@ing pony. There’s only poop and basketball.

***

Six years ago, an Orange County federal judge, Judge Cormac Carney, ruled that the death penalty in California was cruel and unusual because of the delays in its administration. This decision provoked much excitement in the anti-death-penalty community. It did not mean immediate abolition, because it was just one habeas case. But it could lead to abolition, and all the Attorney General had to do was refrain from appealing the decision and get out of the way. At the time, I organized a petition, which 2,178 people signed, essentially urging then-Governor Brown and then-Attorney General Harris, both of whom were personally opposed to the death penalty, “don’t just do something! Sit there.” Many lawyers and advocates were extremely excited about the prospect of finally getting to work on ridding ourselves from the shame and the expense of California’s broken death penalty. And then, two days before the appellate clock was to run out, the AG’s office decided to appeal the decision.

To my surprise, and to their credit, one of AG Harris’ assistants called me on my cellphone and explained why they decided to do so. They interpreted Judge Carney’s decision as making new law on habeas, which is prohibited, per Teague v. Lane (1989), because of retroactivity issues. The technical wrinkle is this: habeas petitioners’ cases are already final, and if a new law is announced in their cases, it cannot apply to similarly situated defendants, because their cases are also final. So the Supreme Court decided to relegate habeas to the law of yesterday, which is unfair and outrageous, but it is technically the law.

Jones v. Chappell then landed at the Ninth Circuit as Davis v. Jones. At the oral argument, Jones’ attorney made a valiant effort to argue that Judge Carney did not make new law, but rather applied good old Furman v. Georgia. The effort failed, though it did have some merit. The decision was a big disappointment, and we ended up with six more years of a death penalty in which no one was executed but your tax dollars, and mine, funded $150 million a year per death row person in litigation fees. Our effort to repeal via voter initiative didn’t work, and met with nasty resistance in the form of a competing, misleading, unjust proposition, which is still tangled up in litigation to this day. It also met with the preciousness of progressives who believe that the good was the enemy of the perfect, and astoundingly voted no on abolition. So it went until Gov. Newsom finally pulled the plug, but of course, without judicial support (or legislation,) we’re still paying the litigation fees, and we will continue to pay until some brave judge does something or until a majority of Californians finally votes to abolish.

I was very upset about the AG’s decision. I thought it was the wrong call, policywise and moralitywise, and said so on numerous occasions.

I am writing this because phone calls from news agencies looking to do some muck racking have already begun. I’m going to decline any and all interviews about Harris, and I want to be crystal clear why. My target audience is the folks who were hoping for a different ticket. I explained the background above to clarify that I, too, had a different ticket in mind. I wanted Elizabeth Warren to be the Presidential nominee. But Elizabeth Warren is not on the ticket.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are.

I want to make it crystal clear that I am shelving any and all reservations about the Democratic 2020 ticket, and am urging you to vote Biden-Harris, with or without enthusiasm. Your enthusiasm is not that important (though, if you can muster some, you’ll feel better.) Your vote is. Monumentally so.

In the coming months, we will hear a lot about who Biden and Harris are, but one thing I’m pretty clear on is that they are colossally different than the criminal junta that has been running things in the last three and a half years, buying their way to power through treason and backroom deals with enemies, locking up children, letting families starve, making nepotistic appointments of unsuitable, barely-literate idiots who ruin whatever they are in charge of, destroying our precious planet, sending government goons to beat and abuse protesters, encouraging and goading non-government goons to shoot, run down, and murder people, trafficking in horrific tropes to ally themselves with actual Nazis.

The situation, in short, is this, my friends. Behind Curtain no. 1: Nazis. Behind Curtain no. 2: not Nazis.

The pony is not on the ballot. The bedrock of our democracy is. You’re not getting a custom-fit ticket, you’re choosing from a catalog with two products. The choice is obvious.

California, Euthanize Capital Punishment Already

Local news are ablaze with Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen’s announcement from Wednesday, according to which his office will no longer seek the death penalty. The Chron reports:

Rosen said the change in policy was inspired by trips to Montgomery, Ala., first with a faith-based group and then with his family. After visits to civil rights museums and historical sites, Rosen said, he learned not only about slavery, but also what he called “the abhorrent misuse of the death penalty” against people of color.

“In the past, I supported the death penalty when I viewed heinous murders through eyes of the victims and families of those whose lives were taken,” Rosen said. But in recent weeks, “I have tried to look at this issue through the lens of race and inequity.

“These cases use up massive public resources and cruelly drag on for years with endless appeals that give no finality to the victims’ families,” he said. “There’s the tragic but real risk of wrongful conviction. And, shamefully, our society’s most drastic and devastating law enforcement punishment has been used disproportionately against defendants of color.”

Michael Cabanatuan, “Santa Clara County DA Jeff Rosen no longer to seek death penalty,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 22, 2020

Things I learned from colleagues who study progressive prosecution and are in the know about Santa Clara County: Rosen is facing a challenge in the form of a more progressive candidate for D.A., and apparently he has been hiring the people that Chesa Boudin fired upon becoming San Francisco’s D.A. Frankly, if the outcome is real reform–ending cash bail, establishing an integrity team to investigate criminal police misconduct, and requiring deputy district attorneys and the office’s investigators, who are currently required to take police ridealongs, to also visit communities, whether the motives are pure or not does not interest me (they never can be with elected officials.)

But this decision raises some bigger questions about the prosecutors who still pursue capital trials despite the fact that we have a moratorium on the death penalty and, actually, no longer have a working death chamber at San Quentin (see image above.) Why are we still paying the enormous expense of capital trials and appeals as if we have a functional capital punishment? Perhaps because some county prosecutors are still behaving as if we have it–as late as last month, apparently, the California District Attorneys’ Association held a webinar on “changes to execution protocols, including California’s.” As members of the CDAA know full well, the “changes” in California consist of the fact that we no longer have an actual room with equipment to conduct executions, nor do we have the chemicals we squabbled for decades about, to the tune of billions of dollars in litigation.

I can see how, in some cases, district attorneys might feel the need to signal to their constituents that they consider this or that homicide case particularly heinous by publicly seeking capital punishment; however, as the L.A. Times explains here, even with someone with a shocking record of homicides like the Golden State Killer, there is no point in a death penalty that has no meaning whatsoever. Why capital punishment? So that DeAngelo can spend the rest of his years litigating our tax money away and die a natural death, like the vast majority of deaths on death row? What would be the point?

Rosen and other prosecutors are making the only practical choice under the circumstances. Even if you are a believer in capital punishment, as any New Age guru worth their salt will tell you, you have to let go of what no longer serves you.