In California, Killers Sit on 'Symbolic' Death Row for Decades, Costing Billions
The state of California is losing billions of dollars keeping hundreds of prisoners on death row -- but the ultimate punishment is mostly symbolic in the state, where inmates ply the appeals process for decade after decade and are more likely to die of old age than by execution.
It seems that California has created a perverse system of capital punishment appeals. It let's a monster like Richard Ramirez spend decades on death row. At the same time, a truly innocent man is likely to spend decades on death row.
By law, every death sentence in California has to be appealed and reviewed by the state's Supreme Court to ensure that no one who is innocent faces the ultimate penalty.
It is a slow process that begins with a very long delay. According to Minsker and other experts, it generally takes as many as five years after a conviction before a lawyer is even appointed to file a mandatory appeal. "Nothing happens in those five years," she said. The reason, according to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, a panel appointed to look at the state's death penalty system, is that there are just too few experienced lawyers available to handle the growing number of appeals.