Ironically, California, the epitome of over-incarceration, who has been ordered by the courts to bring down the population of its prison system - due mostly to the state's deeply misguided three-strikes law, which puts people behind bars for 25 years to life if they commit a third felony, even a nonviolent one - to alleviate its badly overcrowded conditions, is also the state where the Supreme Court declared, in California v. Anderson (Cal. 1972), that the Death Penalty was unconstitutional, and in violation of what was then Article 1, Section 6 (now Article 1, Section 17) of the State Constitution, and that the decision was retroactively effective to all persons on Death Row in the State. Later that year, the U.S. Supreme Court in Furman v. Georgia (1972) would also find the death penalty unconstitutional.
California has exonerated three people from its death row:
Jerry Bigelow (California, Conviction: 1980) Bigelow, sentenced to death, the only evidence, the statement of a man who escaped the death penalty in exchange for his testimony.
Patrick Croy (California, Conviction: 1979) Croy was sentenced to death for killing a police officer. At his initial trial, the jury was not allowed to consider all of the factors relevant to Croy's claim that he had shot the gun in self-defense because he believed that the police officer was chasing him in order to kill him. The California Supreme Court reversed the conviction due to improper jury instructions.
Troy Lee Jones spent more than 14 years on California's death row. The California Supreme Court ruled in June, 1996 that Jones should have a new trial because he was not adequately defended at his original trial for the murder of Carolyn Grayson in 1981. The Court found that the defense attorney failed to conduct an adequate pretrial investigation, speak with possible witnesses, obtain a relevant police report, or seek pretrial investigative funds. Moreover, the attorney elicited damaging testimony against his own client during cross examination of a witness. The prosecution announced that it was dropping all charges against Jones in November, 1996, after he had been on death row for 14 years. (Associated Press, 11/19/96).
And then there is one death row inmate, Dennis Lawley - who the court allowed to defend himself regardless of the fact he was diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic - who, despite recanted testimony, questions about a former district attorney who has died, and new evidence - the murder weapon the self-confessed murderer said he used - still resides on death row.
"I have at least a philosophical objection to begging these people for myThe most comprehensive review of death penalty cases ever undertaken, led by Columbia Law School Professor James Liebman, found that California's trial courts produced an extremely high level of error in capital verdict cases. 87% of capital verdicts in California were tainted with an error serious enough to prejudice the outcome.
life, and I am not going to do it. I'm not going to do it. I'm not going to do it." - Dennis Lawley, a paranoid schizophrenic defending himself after which he was sentenced to death.
Not only that, in states like Texas and California with large death rows, many defendants sentenced to death are not currently being represented by any attorney. [See R. Smothers, A Shortage of Lawyers to Help the Condemned, The New York Times, June 4, 1993, at A21; see also H. Chiang, Judge Sees 'Time Bomb' on Death Row, San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 18, 1993 (105 of the 370 Calif. death row inmates have no attorneys].
The majority of Californians still favor the death penalty, but their support has waned from 79% to 66% over the last two decades as fears of executing the wrongly convicted escalate.