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U.S. Laws Hinder Death Penalty, Lungren Says

From States News Service

Federal laws interfere with California’s ability to carry out the death penalty, state Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren said Thursday as he expressed support for Republican proposals for crime reform.

“An effective death penalty will become a reality only with the reform of the federal system,” he said.

Central to that reform, he said, would be changing the process by which a prisoner may seek retrial on constitutional grounds in federal courts, known as habeas corpus. That would include adopting a one-year time limit during which a prisoner may petition a federal court after all actions in state court have been exhausted.

Lungren also proposed that stays of execution be decided exclusively by the district judge or a majority of a circuit court panel that decided the original appeal.

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Had such language been in place, Lungren said, convicted murderer Robert Alton Harris would not have received four stays of execution from the federal circuit court during the two days leading up to Harris’ execution in 1992.

Lungren said such habeas corpus reform would help avoid delays for prisoners convicted of both capital and non-capital crimes, but much of his testimony focused on capital punishment.

“The credibility of the criminal justice system itself is undermined by a maze of procedures which indefinitely prolong the certainty of punishment,” he said.

The present federal appeals process and habeas corpus procedures, he said, has obstructed 37 states from exercising the death penalty.

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California reinstated its death penalty in 1978. Two prisoners have been executed since that time: Harris in 1992 and David Mason in 1993.


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