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Can Los Angeles murder convictions carry the death penalty?
Not anymore. As of December 8, 2020, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office (LADA) is no longer seeking the death penalty in pending or future murder cases. And for defendants currently on death row, LADA is no longer seeking an execution date.
Does California still have the death penalty?
Prosecutors in California other than in Los Angeles County may still seek the death penalty in special circumstances murder cases and other capital offenses. But on March 12, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom placed a moratorium on implementing the death penalty. Therefore, present and future defendants on death row will not be executed as long as the moratorium is in place.
Which California crimes carry the death penalty?
The most common California crime that potentially carries the death penalty is special circumstances murder. (The other possible penalty is life in California State Prison without the possibility of parole.) Special circumstances murder is killing plus certain aggravating circumstance(s), such as:
The murder was carried out for financial gain;
The defendant had a prior murder conviction;
The defendant was convicted of another murder in the same trial;
The defendant killed using a bomb or destructive device;
The defendant killed while trying to escape or prevent an arrest;
The murder victim was a police officer, federal agent, or firefighter;
The murder victim was a witness;
The murder victim was a juror, judge, prosecutor, or government official;
The defendant killed after lying in wait;
The motive for the killing was race, religion, or nationality;
The defendant killed in the commission of certain felonies;
The defendant tortured the victim;
The killing was done in a drive-by-shooting;
The killing was done by poison; and/or
The defendant was a street gang member.
Now that LADA is no longer seeking the death penalty, it has disbanded is Special Circumstances Committee.
Other, rarer California crimes that potentially carry the death penalty include:
Sabotaging a train which results in killing someone
Assaulting and killing someone with a deadly weapon while serving a life sentence in state prison
Intentionally interfering with preparations for the U.S. to go to war, with the result that someone is killed
Murder (PC 187) done without a qualifying aggravating circumstance does not carry the death penalty. Instead, it carries 25 years to life in state prison.
There is a moratorium on the death penalty in the entire state of California.
Why does LADA no longer pursue the death penalty?
Capital punishment is inseparable from racism. A disproportionate amount of people put to death are people of color. By ending capital punishment in Los Angeles County, LADA is stopping race-sanctioned lynchings.
Furthermore, the death penalty has no deterrent effect on crime. So putting people to death serves no purpose and does not protect public health and safety.
Additionally, capital punishment is costly taking into account all of the litigation and appeals. Simply incarcerating the person for life without parole is less expensive.
Finally, there is always the risk that the state will put to death people who are factually innocent. By eliminating the death penalty as an option, there is no chance that an innocent person will be executed for a crime he/she did not commit.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.