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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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
Read the LADA Special Directive 20-11 for the full policies.
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, Court TV, 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.
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