Criminal Justice

Wherever There's a Fight on New America Now Radio Program

November 12, 2009

Wherever There's a Fight co-author, Stan Yogi, spoke with Sandip Roy, host of New America Now: Dispatches from the New Majority.  The interview was broadcast on San Francisco's KALW radio on Friday, November 6, and again on Sunday, November 8.  Listen to the interview by clicking on the button below.

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Listen to Wherever There's a Fight co-author Stan Yogi being interviewed by Sandip Roy of KALW's New America Now.

Los Angeles Police Attack Peaceful Anti-War Marchers

On June 23, 1967, thousands of white, middle-class citizens peacefully marched through posh Century City to protest the Vietnam War, while President Lyndon Johnson attended a fundraising dinner at the Century Plaza Hotel. Los Angeles police officers attacked hundreds of the demonstrators.

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Federal Appeals Court Upholds California's DNA Collection Law

February 24, 2012

Calling the collection of a DNA sample a "minor inconvenience" that is no more invasive than fingerprinting, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 ruling upheld California's voter-approved law requiring DNA samples from people arrested, but not necessarily convicted, for alleged felonies.

The dissenting judge, however, raised privacy concerns and pointed out that DNA, unlike fingerprints, contains genetic information that "reveals information about familial relationships."

The Ninth Circut ruling conflicts with an August 2011 state appeals court ruling which struck down the law. The state supreme court is reviewing that decision.

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Federal decision conflicts with an existing state appellate court decision. The issue will likely go to the United States Supreme Court.

Moratorium on Executions in California Continues Into 2012

May 5, 2011

Attorneys for the state of California told U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel that they will not be prepared to defend the state's lethal injection process until early 2012. 

This development in ongoing litigation challenging the lethal injection process is due to the decision of Michael Martel, the new warden of San Quention prison, to select a new team of guards to conduct executions.

And it comes on the heels of Governor Jerry Brown announcing his decision to cancel plans for a new $356 million death row complex at San Quentin.

In 2006, Judge Fogel temporarily halted executions in California until the state revised the process of killing condemned prisoners to insure that they do not suffer from cruel and unusual punishment. Since then, there has been a de facto moratorium on executions.

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In 1972, the California Spreme Court ruled that capital punishment violated the state constitution because it constituted cruel and unusual punishment. As a result of the ruling, 107 inmates were taken off death row and resentenced to life imprisonment. In November of that same year, voters passed an initiative promoted by law enforcement interests that reinstated the death penalty.

San Quentin Prison warden's decision to change execution team delays state's defense of lethal injection in ongoing litigation

State Regulators Reject Death Penalty Procedures

June 9, 2010

In a surprise decision, the California Office of Administrative Law on June 8 rejected proposed changes to the state's process of executing death row prisoners.

As part of a lawsuit challenging the lethal injection process of killing prisoners in California, a federal judge in 2006 temporarily halted executions in the state until the Schwarzenegger administration revised the process of killing condemned prisoners to insure that they do not suffer from cruel and unusual punishment.

In response, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation proposed new policies. The objections to these revisions from the Office of Administrative Law, which checks that state agencies follow proper procedures when proposing regulations, were unexpected.

State prison officials have until October 6 to submit revised procedures.

In 1972, the California Spreme Court ruled that capital punishment violated the state constitution because it constituted cruel and unusual punishment. As a result of the ruling, 107 inmates were taken off death row and resentenced to life imprisonment. In a rapid response, in November of that same year, voters passed an initiative promoted by law enforcement interests that reinstated the death penalty. Currently, 702 California prisons are sentenced to death.

Department of Corrections has until early October to submit revised procedures to ensure that the state's execution method does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

California Counters National Trend in Death Sentences

December 19, 2009

Although the number of death sentences issued across the United States in 2009 dipped to the lowest level since 1976, the number of such sentences in California increased. During 2009, 29 people received death sentences in California, compared to 20 last year. Los Angeles county alone condemned more people to death sentences in 2009 than any state in the nation.  The Death Penalty Information Center released a report on December 18 stating that death sentences nationally decreased this year. The report attributed the decline to growing apprehensions about the possibility of wrongful convictions, as well as increasing concerns about the costs of the death penalty. 

In 1972, the California Supreme Court ruled that capital punishment violated the state constitution because it constituted cruel and unusual punishment. As a result of the ruling, 107 inmates were taken off death row and resentenced to life imprisonment. In a rapid response, in November of that same year, voters passed an initiative promoted by law enforcement interests that reinstated the death penalty. California now has largest death row, with 697 people.

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More people in California received death sentences in 2009 than any other state, despite a decline in capital punishment sentencing nationally.

California Voters Decide Criminal Justice Initiatives

November 7, 2012

California voters sent mixed signals by narrowly defeating Proposition 34, the initiative to replace the death penalty with life in prisonment, while overwhelmingly approving Proposition 36, which reforms the state's harsh Three Strikes Law.

By a 47%-53% margin, voters chose to maintain the state's death penalty. But the initiative's proponents pointed out that the percentage of voters supporting capital punishment has dropped dramatically since 1978, when 71% of the electorate supported an initiative to reinstate the death penalty.

California has the largest and costliest death row in the United States. If Proposition 34 had passed, the death sentences of California’s 726 death row inmates would have been converted to a sentence of life in prison with no possibility of parole. Convicted killers would also have been required to work and pay restitution into a victims’ compensation fund.

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By a 69%-31% margin, voters passed Proposition 36, an initiative eliminating 25 years-to life sentences currently imposed on "third strike" offenders who have never been convicted of a crime like murder or rape, and whose third strike is for a non-violent, non-serious crime like petty theft or drug posession.

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Proposition 34, to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment without parole, narrowly loses, while Proposition 36, to reform the state's harsh Three Strikes Law, passes by a wide margin

State Appeals Court Overturns DNA Collection Law

August 5, 2011

A state court of appeals invalidated Proposition 69, a 2004 initiative requiring law enforcement officers to collect DNA samples from anyone arrested for a felony, ruling that it violates the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures,

Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, Justice Anthony Klein stated, "There is no doubt that an extraordinary amount of private personal information can be extracted from the DNA samples and specimens seized by the police without a warrant, collected and indefinitely retained by the (state) Department of Justice."

The state court decision conflicts with a 2010 federal court ruling by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, who upheld the law. 

Although passed in 2004, Proposition 69 went into effect in 2009. DNA samples collected under the law are stored in a criminal database accessible to local, state, national, and international law enforcement agencies. Instead of being limited to serious, violent offenses, the law applies to victims of domestic violence who are arrested after defending themselves, people wrongfully arrested due to police misconduct, someone who has written a bad check, and people arrested during political demonstrations.

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Three-judge panel unanimously rules that a voter intiative mandating DNA samples from everyone arrested for a felony violates the Fourth Amendment of the federal Constitution

First Execution in Nearly Five Years Postponed

October 1, 2010

A day before death row inmatte Albert Greenwood Brown was to be put to death in San Quentin Prison (pictured here), the California Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling temporarily halting the execution. 

For almost five years, the State of California has engaged in a protracted legal battle over its method of execution: lethal injection. As part of a lawsuit challenging the lethal injection process of killing prisoners in California, U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel  in 2006 temporarily halted executions in the state until the Schwarzenegger administration revised the process of killing condemned prisoners to insure that they do not suffer from cruel and unusual punishment. Since then, there has been a de facto moratorium on executions.

Brown's execution was scheduled for the evening of September 30, just hours before the state's supply of sodium thiopental, one of the drugs used in the lethal injection process, was to expire. Because of a nationwide shortage of the drug, a new supply can not be obtained until 2011.

The California Supreme Court refused to grant the state's request that the court speed up its process of reviewing a lower court's ruling that had allowed for Brown's execution to move forward. The high court faulted the government, saying that "the state has itself contributed to circumstances incompatible with the orderly resolution, pursuant to normal procedures, of pending legal issues" by scheduling the execution so close to the drug's expiration date.

The day before the state supreme court's ruling, U.S. District Court Judge  Fogel ordered that Brown's execution be delayed until he can review whether the state's revised lethal injection process meets constitutional muster.

Brown was convited in 1982 of raping and murdering a Riverside teen two years earlier. 

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After days of uncertainty and legal twists and turns, federal and state courts put off the execution of Albert Greenwood Brown.

California Prison Population Declines

March 18, 2010

A survey released by the Pew Center on States finds that the number of people incarcerated in California state prisons decreased last year for the third straight year. Nationally, the number of individuals in state prisons fell slightly, the first decline since 1972.

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The number of prisoners currently incarcerated in California--170,000--is more than double the number imprisoned in 1988.

Since the early 1980s, when politicians focused on "law and order" policies and the "war on drugs," California's prison population has grown to beyond capacity. The initiative process has contributed greatly to the exponential growth of California inmates. Beginning in 1978, voters have approved a slew of initiatives dealing with criminal justice. Almost all of them have reduced the rights of the accused, extended sentences, and created more prisons. Between 1984 and 2000, California constructed forty-three new prisons. Almost half of California's prisoners are locked up for violating a drug law.

In related news, the federal receiver who oversees the California prison health care system is working with state senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) on legislation to allow ailing and incapacitated prisoners to be released on medical parole. Because of litigation challenging inadequate medical care in state prisons, a federal court found that the prison health care system caused an "unconscionable degree of suffering and death." The court also noted that an inmate in California's prisons needlessly died every six to seven days due to grossly deficient medical care.

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The number of inmates in state prisons decreased in 2009 for the third consecutive year. The decrease in California's prison population was the largest in the country.
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