Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What Death Penalty?

skull-crossbones(San Quentin, CA)  Associated Press writer Paul Elias recently reported that California's death penalty is "dysfunctional."  Tell us something we don't already know.

  "Only 13 condemned inmates have been executed from the time capital punishment resumed in the state in 1977 until February 2006, when U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel halted executions until prison officials revamped their lethal injection process," the article stated.

  Elias reports that capital cases cost the state an additional $125 million a year to administer and the Department of Corrections has spent $400 million for a new death chamber and death row.  

  I can't help but wonder how many children that money could feed and educate.

  In California, all death penalty cases are automatically appealed and cannot be waived by the inmate who has been sentenced to death.  In fact, the inmate cannot represent him/herself in these appeals.

There's Something Good in Everybody

  I have been corresponding with inmates throughout the United States for decades, primarily to assist with civil and human rights issues, wrongful convictions, and that type of thing.  However, I have also corresponded with "bad guys" because my father (to this day) tells me there is something good in everybody.

  I recently received a letter from one of those "bad guys" (or in this case, a badass mofo), San Quentin death row inmate Daniel Carl Frederickson.

  According to an archived article in the Los Angeles Times, Frederickson shot and killed Santa Ana HomeBase manager Scott Wilson (of Costa Mesa) during a June 13, 1996, botched robbery at the store.  Wilson was 30 at the time and Frederickson was around 33.

  In 1998, Frederickson, who acted as his own fool -- er, I mean attorney -- at trial, was convicted and sentenced to death by an Orange County Superior Court jury.  We have been corresponding sporadically since he's been on death row.

  Although we have been at odds with each other the majority of the time, I have to admit that Frederickson's letter to me in late March presents some interesting and challenging issues (legally and morally) when it comes to California's death penalty.

  In the letter to me, Frederickson says he doesn't want to represent himself, he simply wants to waive all appeals.  "I never asked them to let me represent myself on appeal.  I don't want an appeal, never did . . . . Everything has been against my right to be a man and step up to accept my culpability and punishment.  The system is set up to favor all liars and cowards and unrepentant people of no conscious (sic)."

California Supremes Say Forgeddaboutit!

  "The Supreme Court has received your undated pro se documents . . . in which you again seek to waive or abandon your automatic appeal . . . from the trial court's judgment of death," states a March 16, 2010, letter to Frederickson from Supreme Court of California Automatic Appeals Monitor Robert D. Reichman.  (Gee, is this the guy who always wanted to be hall monitor as a kid?)

  The letter goes on to cite various California cases and statutes that hold solid current law that criminal defendants have no right to "represent himself or herself on appeal" and that the supreme court has sole discretion to appoint "counsel on appeal from a judgment of death."

  Finally, the letter closes: "Your appeal cannot be abandoned or waived.  The documents you submitted will not be filed.  The court will not respond to any further correspondence regarding these issues."

  Personally, I am (and have always been) opposed to the death penalty.  At the same time, since criminal defendants (even those facing the death penalty) have the right to represent themselves at trial, why shouldn't the same hold  true on appeal?  Furthermore, if they want to waive their right to appeal, so what?

  Sorry for sounding like a Republican, but if the State of California were to grant Frederickson's request, it will save the taxpayers (and a nearly bankrupt state) lots of money which could be better spent in other areas of criminal justice.  Isn't that true justice?