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California Governor Files Brief in State Supreme Court: Our State’s Death Penalty Has Always Been ‘Infected by Racism’


California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) filed an amicus brief on Monday with the state’s Supreme Court examining the historical relationship between racism and the death penalty in California’s criminal justice system. The governor argued that racial discrimination is inextricably linked to the administration of capital punishment.

Newsom, who submitted the brief in support of defendant Don’te Lamonth McDaniel, also argued that the state should require that juries vote unanimously and find proof beyond a reasonable doubt during penalty decision-making.

“Today’s inequities in the imposition of death sentences are the result of the nation’s and the state’s history of racial terror and subjugation,” Newsom wrote. “African Americans’ experiences— generation after generation—subject to disparate enforcement of the law have generally shaped their views of the criminal justice and capital punishment systems.”

The brief argues that California’s Black population has been underrepresented during the jury selection process, inordinately holds beliefs that fail “death qualification,” and are disproportionately discarded through the use of peremptory challenges. Such factors “all but ensure that sentencing decisions are made by juries that are disproportionately White and death-prone, heightening the risk that, absent additional protections, these decisions will be based on racial bias,” the brief stated.

Newsom also argued that requiring unanimity and proof beyond a reasonable doubt in juries’ penalty decision-making would help alleviate racial bias and reduce the arbitrary nature of death penalty sentences.

“Nationally and in California, non-unanimous verdicts have been intended to entrench White jurors’ control of deliberations. In fact, there are stunning parallels between the assaults on California’s jury right in the mid-1990s and the non-unanimous jury verdict schemes recently repudiated by the United States Supreme Court,” the brief stated. “California’s capital punishment scheme is now, and always has been, infected by racism.”

Newsom issued an executive order last year placing a moratorium on executions in the state, granting reprieves to the 737 inmates that were then on death row.

“Three out of four nations in the world know better and are doing better, they have abolished the death penalty. It’s time California joined those ranks,” Newsom said following the order.

A court-ordered moratorium on capital punishment had been in place in California since 2006, after a judge declared the state’s lethal injection process to be unconstitutional. While a new protocol was under review, Newsom’s 2019 order withdrew the latest protocol proposal.

Read the full amicus brief below:

10.26.20 Governor Newsom McDaniel Amicus Brief by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via YouTube screengrab]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.