UPDATE MAY 27, 2010: The Senate Appropriations Committee did not pass out the bill, which effectively kills it for this session.
The Equal Justice Society and the ACLU of Northern California are working together on changing California law so that no one is sentenced to die because of race or ethnicity. EJS and ACLU-NC are proponents of the California Racial Justice Act, Senate Bill 1331, introduced Feb. 19, 2010, by state Sen. Gil Cedillo of Los Angeles.
WHAT THE ACT PROPOSES. The California Racial Justice Act (RJA) would ensure that no one is sentenced to die in California because of race or ethnicity. The RJA would create a procedure for the court to decide whether race was a significant factor in the decision to seek or impose the death penalty in a particular case. The RJA would permit the defendant to file a motion and present evidence supporting his or her claim and would allow the State to present evidence in response. If the judge decides that race was a significant factor in the decision to seek the death penalty, the State would not be allowed to seek the death penalty in that case but could pursue a sentence of permanent imprisonment.
WHY IS THIS NEEDED? Research shows that the death penalty is not applied fairly in California. A defendant is three or four times more likely to be sentenced to die in cases where the victim is white than in cases where the victim is African American or Latino. Meanwhile, murder cases in which the victim is African American or Latino often remain unsolved. African Americans have long been over-represented on death row. In recent years Latinos have increasingly been sentenced to death. One California prosecutor testified that it was standard policy in his office to exclude African American women from juries in death penalty cases.
If California is going to continue to have a death penalty, then it must be applied fairly without regard to the race or ethnicity of the defendant, the victim or the jurors.
Two states, Kentucky and North Carolina, have already implemented Racial Justice Acts. California must also enact a Racial Justice Act to ensure that, if the state continues to pursue the death penalty, that it is implemented fairly and consistently, regardless of the race or ethnicity of the individuals involved.
Click here to see our EJS blog posts related to the death penalty