The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has called on Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey to end the use of death penalty sentencing in Los Angeles. The organization also released a report that revealed only people of color have been given death sentences during Lacey’s tenure.
The report, which was released on June 18, found that 22 people have been sentenced to death since Lacey was first elected in December 2012. Of those 22 defendants, 13 were Latinx, eight were Black, and one defendant was Asian. According to the ACLU, no white defendants have been sentenced to death despite there being defendants eligible for the death penalty.
The ACLU reported that nine of the 22 defendants who received death sentences were represented by unfit lawyers who were either disbarred, suspended, or charged with misconduct. In a tenth case, a defense attorney reportedly fell asleep several times during the trial.
“LA County is an example of everything wrong with the death penalty,” Cassandra Stubbs, director of the Capital Punishment Project at the ACLU, said in a statement. “Abysmal defense lawyering, geographic disparities, and racial bias are the legacy of its unfair and discriminatory use of the death penalty.”
Stubbs continued, “LA is one of the largest drivers of death sentences nationwide, despite the repeated rejection of the death penalty at the ballot box by LA voters. DA Lacey should take a step forward for racial justice and help end America’s failed experiment with the death penalty by announcing she will no longer tolerate death penalty cases under her watch.”
The report found that 31 percent of the 723 people on California’s death row come from Los Angeles. In the last five years, the county has had more death sentences per capita than any large county in Texas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, or Georgia, the ACLU said.
In March, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive moratorium suspending the death penalty in the state. The order stopped executions during Newsom’s time as governor and gave reprieve to the 737 people on death row at the time, NPR reported.
Newsom claimed that the death penalty system has been “a failure” that has not provided benefit to public safety or acted as a deterrent to crime. “It has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars,” he said in a statement. “But most of all, the death penalty is absolute, irreversible, and irreparable in the event of a human error.”
However, Lacey continued to seek the death penalty in Los Angeles County.
“Despite the moratorium and opposition from the DA’s constituents, Lacey’s office continues to seek the death penalty in the face of unmistakable evidence that the practice disproportionately affects Black and Brown people and people without access to quality counsel,” Jessica Farris, director of criminal justice at the ACLU of Southern Californial, said in a statement. “DA Lacey holds the power to immediately end death sentences in LA County. We hope she will.”
Three years prior to Newsom’s controversial order, Californian voters rejected repealing the death penalty.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for comment.
In a statement to The Los Angeles Times, Lacey claimed that her office only sought the death penalty in less than 3 percent of eligible cases in 2018. She said that prosecutors conducted an “extensive” review of the each case and did not consider the race of either the defendant or the victim.
Lacey said in her statement that she believes the death penalty is an “appropriate” punishment for some crimes. “California voters have twice failed to abolish the death penalty,” Lacey said. “I will follow the law as prescribed by the citizens of California — whether that is seeking the death penalty for the most heinous crimes or, with the abolition of the death penalty, life without parole.”
A recent poll from the Los Angeles Times and the University of California at Berkeley’s Institute for Governmental Studies found that 52 percent of California voters support Newsom’s action to stop death sentence executions, while 48 percent oppose it. The poll also found that a majority of Californians (61 percent) support keeping the death penalty, as opposed to 39 percent who believe it should be abolished.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.