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Prosecutors Block Death Penalty Reform, Neighborhood Watch Groups Turning Vigilante…and More

June 15th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


California prosecutors have sentenced five more people to death row this year. With the SAFE Act on the November ballot, Californians are signing a California SAFE Act petition requesting that local district attorneys wait to seek the death penalty until after voters have their say at the polls.

Jeanne Woodford, who has a story on the topic in The Huffington Post, is currently the executive director of Death Penalty Focus, one of the largest non-profits working to abolish the death penalty. Jeanne was not always the major advocate for ending capital punishment, however. She oversaw four executions as the warden at San Quentin State Prison, and later became the acting director of the CDCR.

Here’s a clip from Woodford’s article for The Huffington Post:

There’s only one problem: Prosecutors throughout the state are still seeking the death penalty. In fact, the AP just reported that five new people have been sent to death row this year.

That’s why thousands of Californians are joining together to call on local district attorneys to stop seeking death sentences until voters get a chance to weigh in on this broken system. And they are not alone: the Los Angeles Times has joined the call for prosecutors to hold on death penalty trials until voters have a chance to choose life without parole in November.

In their June 5 editorial, “Don’t seek the death penalty,” they explained:

We favor replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. A measure on the November ballot, the SAFE California Act, would do exactly that, and we hope voters will support it. Meanwhile, California prosecutors, in particular L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, should stop pursuing capital cases until the voters have had their say.

Local District Attorneys, elected by each county in California, have the power to decide when to seek the death penalty and when to choose life without the possibility of parole. When they choose the death penalty, they start a process that costs millions of dollars and takes an average of 25 years to resolve. A life without parole trial can be over in a matter of weeks.


An investigation by The Crime Report revealed that volunteer groups like Neighborhood Watch often have unclear standards, procedural policies, and too little training to supplement law enforcement safely.

The Crime Report’s John Sodaro has the story. Here’s a clip:

These unpaid civilians provide a visual presence that supplements regular police units— sometimes complete with uniforms, badges and marked vehicles that strongly resemble squad cars.

In other communities, they operate as “shadow police”—but without proper training in police procedures. In extreme cases, they are criticized for acting as vigilantes. Most law enforcement professionals consider community volunteers a key tool in crime-fighting strategies. However, many law enforcement agencies in smaller towns and cities have minimal funds available for training civilian volunteers.

And when such volunteers overstep their “eyes and ears” roles, they create tension with the communities they serve, and with the police departments they supplement. The specter of armed and untrained civilians enforcing the law fans the kind of anxieties that surfaced following the Martin killing.

Although Zimmerman was not trained in firearms or police procedures, he was able to obtain a firearm permit under the relatively lax standards operating in Florida—as in many other states.


In North Carolina, upwards of sixty innocent men remain in prison for breaking a federal law against felons possessing firearms. Here’s the problem: As it turns out, these men are not felons under federal law. However, they don’t know they’re not felons. Perversely, the US Department of Justice says it is not their responsibility to notify the prisoners of their innocent status, and the men will still have to abide by difficult-to-navigate court policy in challenging their false convictions.

USA Today’s Brad Heath has the story. Here’s a clip:

A USA TODAY investigation, based on court records and interviews with government officials and attorneys, found more than 60 men who went to prison for violating federal gun possession laws, even though courts have since determined that it was not a federal crime for them to have a gun.

Many of them don’t even know they’re innocent. The legal issues underlying their situation are complicated, and are unique to North Carolina. But the bottom line is that each of them went to prison for breaking a law that makes it a federal crime for convicted felons to possess a gun. The problem is that none of them had criminal records serious enough to make them felons under federal law.

Still, the Justice Department has not attempted to identify the men, has made no effort to notify them, and, in a few cases in which the men have come forward on their own, has argued in court that they should not be released.

Justice Department officials said it is not their job to notify prisoners that they might be incarcerated for something that they now concede is not a crime. And although they have agreed in court filings that the men are innocent, they said they must still comply with federal laws that put strict limits on when and how people can challenge their convictions in court.

Posted in CDCR, Courts, criminal justice, Death Penalty, Innocence, Sentencing | 4 Comments »

4 Responses

  1. Prophet Mo Teff Says:

    If Californians vote to eliminate capital punishment in November, they will be stripping prosecutors of a powerful tool and force them to work harder to maintain conviction rates.

    District Attorneys won’t have a potential execution to use as a bargaining chip to trade for a plea of guilty by Defendants charged with capital crimes.

    In addition, If California eliminates capital punishment it will also eliminate the “confession paradox” which faces the innocent person convicted of a capital crime eligible for a death sentence.

    The “confession paradox” was created with the introduction of penalty phase hearings which allow unverifiable, undisputable emotion based testimony as a factor in the sentencing decision.

    A defendant convicted of a capital crime may be subjected to a penalty hearing. The judge may hear non-factual testimony to weigh in deciding the choice between a sentence of death or imprisonment for life.

    The generally understood format is thus: If a defendant who has maintained a claim of innocence and been convicted wants to avoid a death sentence, then he must present a dramatic monologue.

    The monologue will be rated for an ambiguous trait called “remorse”. The convicted defendant’s task is to convey as much “remorse” as possible.

    The “remorse monologue” must begin with a confession of guilt.

    The “confession paradox” faces a convicted defendant who is factually innocent.

    Before the factually innocent convict can begin his sentence and continue his efforts to document and introduce evidence which may win his exoneration – he will need to avoid a penalty of death.

    It is then essential for the factually innocent convict to make a pleading to the court which persuades them of his guilt.

    If he is successful at accomplishing the task, he proceeds to life imprisonment awaiting the arrival of exonerating evidence. Then he must present the new evidence and persuade the court that he was lying in the penalty “remorse” hearing.


  2. Prophet Mo Teff Says:

    “Justice Department officials said it is not their job to notify prisoners that they might be incarcerated for something that they now concede is not a crime.”

    Its Not Their Job???

    Excuse Me!!!

    Do these people take an oath of some sort???

    Is it not their job to conduct themselves always and have their efforts guided towards furtherance of the principles of Justice to each and all???

    Are they still fuzzy on how that apllies in the case of the North Carolina gun possession convicts?

    O.K. then its not their job!

    Which means those Justice Department officials must not deposit this months federal paycheck and need to reimburse the Treasury for all past paychecks they mistakenly accepted.

    Sounds like the U.S. taxpayer should expect a little money back soon.

  3. Prophet Mo Teff Says:

    “Justice Department officials said it is not their job to notify prisoners that they might be incarcerated for something that they now concede is not a crime. And although they have agreed in court filings that the men are innocent, they said they must still comply with federal laws that put strict limits on when and how people can challenge their convictions in court.”

    Do you wan’t to know what i truly admire about The U.S. Department of Justice?


    But at least the trains are running on time.

  4. CBernstien Says:

    The arguments in support of the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and erroneous. The Act would only make our prisons less safe for both other prisoners and prison officials, significantly increase the costs to taxpayers due to life-time medical costs, the increased security required to coerce former death-row inmates to work, etc. The amount “saved” in order to help fund law enforcement is negligible and only for a short period of time. Bottom line, the “SAFE” Act is an attempt by those who are responsible for the high costs and lack of executions to now persuade voters to abandon it on those ground. Obviously, these arguments would disappear if the death penalty was carried forth in accordance with the law. Get the facts at and supporting evidence at

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