Death Penalty

Judge: Put Capital Appeals in Lower Calif. Courts; Lawyers: Pay Us More

In an effort to deal with a backlog of death penalty appeals and speed up the appellate process, the chief justice of the California Supreme Court is calling for a constitutional amendment to allow some of the appeals to be shifted to lower state courts. It now reportedly takes more than 17 years for a California inmate sentenced to death to be executed, which is more than twice the national average. The state has 667 inmates on death row, the largest number in the nation.

However, even if the plan proposed by Chief Justice Ronald M. George is approved, that still isn’t likely to solve the problem, reports the Los Angeles Times. Unless the state significantly increases its staff of government lawyers who handle such cases, or raises the amount it pays to private attorneys to supplement their efforts by representing convicted defendants in capital cases on appeal, lawyers in private practice will continue to shun these cases and leave the justice system short of appellate counsel, observers say.

The current pay rate set by the state legislature for death penalty appellate lawyers is $140 per hour, and the appeal in each case on average is estimated to cost around $250,000, according to the newspaper.

“It might sound like a lot of money, but it really doesn’t cut it,” a lawyer who works for the judiciary tells the Times, on condition of anonymity. “These cases last forever; it’s a huge undertaking and can ruin your law practice. Many counsel are emotionally, professionally and financially shunning these cases.”

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