The Legal Investigator The Legal Investigator (Vol 38, Issue 3, Fall 2013) : Page 3

From 2000 to 2007 Alameda County jurors sentenced 13 people to death. There are no reliable statewide numbers available as cases charged as capital cases are not tracked. However, I know personally that at least four death cases were pending in Alameda in 2012 because I was the lead defense investigator on two of them. Briefly, both cases involved multiple murders. Both defendants are black and both are male. One has been in the local jail seven years due to a series of mishaps awaiting trial from a 2005 murder. The other defendant is charged with a murder committed in 2010. Other than the multiple murders, there is not much unusual about either case. What is unusual is that special circumstances were charged. Neither case is unlike many criminal cases filed in Alameda County. Nor are they unlike cases I have investigated that could have qualified for the death penalty. Some involved qualifying circumstances such as financial gain, death during the commission of a felony, kidnapping, torture and others. This is Oakland, California, the County of Alameda, a city with one of the highest murder rates per capita in the nation, almost double the national average (Area Connect, 2011). In 2011 Oakland was listed as the city with the fifth highest crime rate in the country by an independent publisher (CQ Press, 2011). The current statistics are even graver, with violent crime in Oakland over four times the national average (Neighborhood Scout, 2013). The statistics have become so onerous that recently the beleaguered Oakland Police Department, long scrutinized by federal monitoring due to a 2003 settlement for police misconduct, has been in the headlines for going through an unprecedented number of three police chiefs within a 48 hours period (Garcia, 2013). In Alameda County, the process for deciding to charge death is done by a committee. The prosecutor is hand-picked to try the case. It is considered a badge of honor for the prosecutor. There is much at stake. Of course, the role of the police has to be considered. Their job is to have enough probable cause for arrest. Once the complaint is filed by the District Attorney, the commitment to get a death verdict is settled and pursued, often by any means necessary. A study by the ACLU concluded the deciding factor of whether a person is charged and ultimately sentenced to fall 2013 death in California is the county border (Bedeau, 1992). By a wide margin, Alameda County is also more likely to seek death than the adjacent County of Santa Clara located on its Southern border. For the same seven-year span, Santa Clara County sought death on two cases versus the 13 in Alameda County, though Alameda and Santa Clara have similar crime statistics and comparable demographics. Further, the statistics show that from 2000 to 2007, ten counties in California were responsible for over four-fifths of the total of all California death sentences (Ganchow, 2011). California is not an anomaly. Within some states, like Texas, rules change from county to county. Of 254 counties in Texas, 136 counties have never sentenced anyone to death. Like California, the Texas county where the crime is committed determines whether the crime is charged as a capital crime. According to Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Harris County has the highest number with 288 on death row. Dallas and Tarrant Counties then follow with 102 and 69, respectively (2011). Texas currently has 331 awaiting death. Between 2000 and 2007, the 118 Texas counties seeking death sentenced a total of 187 men and women (Texas Moratorium Network, 2010). Statistics for California’s men and women on the row total 737 with 166 new sentences during the same time period (Death Penalty Information Center, 2011). Death Penalty Information Center provides staggering statistics. Though California has the highest numbers of people confined to death row at 737 including 19 females, more than 80 percent of executions in the nation are done in the Southern U.S; a whopping 45 percent are in Texas and Virginia. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia do not have the death penalty (Death Penalty Information Center, 2011). In 2011, Oregon’s Governor John Kitzhaber declared that there would be no more executions in Oregon while he was in office (Yardley, 2011). States such as Maryland, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, New Mexico and New Hampshire have also recently considered measures to abolish the death penalty (Urbina, 2009). Not much has changed since the 1972 landmark decision, Furman v. Georgia (408 U.S. 238 1972), Furman’s 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling deemed death as an extraordinarily 5

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