The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) released its long-awaited new solitary confinement policy following an order by Gov. Gavin Newsom. But, the new regulations have been criticized as not going far enough. The new policy, which only applies to prisoners in isolation for alleged gang membership or activities, allows for four hours out of their cells a day but does not change the amount of time they can be kept in isolation, which can still be years. Criticism centers mainly on the length of time someone can be placed in solitary and the fact that prisoners are still being placed in isolation for alleged gang affiliations rather than actual offenses. Activists and inmates’ rights groups say the lack of monitoring and accountability within the CDCR means that the new policy could easily be ignored, as was the case with past reforms.
The Racial Justice Act has been a highly debated topic in the California legal system, and its fate was recently decided by a state appeals court. In a split 2-1 ruling, the court upheld the Racial Justice Act, which has been developed to address the issue of systemic racism in the legal system and ensure that racial bias is not a factor in prosecutions and sentencing. This ruling marks a landmark moment in California’s efforts to achieve a fair and impartial justice system for all citizens, regardless of their race or ethnicity. It is a significant step forward in the fight against racial discrimination, and it solidifies California’s commitment to promoting justice and equality. The Racial Justice Act has been praised by many legal experts, civil rights advocates, and marginalized communities, who see it as a critical tool in addressing the systemic biases that have long been present in the justice system.
The Louisiana Board of Pardons has recently made a decision that has caused ripples in the world of justice. The board has denied the clemency hearing of the first five appeals who had applied to be granted mercy. The hearing could have given them a chance to turn their lives around and make amends for the wrongs they had committed. It is a disappointing turn of events that these individuals were denied the opportunity to state their case. The decision is being closely scrutinized by those who support the appeals for clemency while others, perhaps with a different perspective on the matter, seem to be applauding the move. Regardless of where you stand in the matter, it is clear that the Louisiana Board of Pardons’ decision has impacted the lives of the five individuals who were denied the chance to appeal for clemency.
Scott Panetti’s battle with paranoid schizophrenia has spanned over three decades, leading to a heinous crime committed in the year 1992 – the murder of his wife’s parents. Despite being convicted and sentenced to death in Texas in 1995, the severity of his mental illness could not be overlooked. In a recent development, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman blocked Panetti’s execution on the grounds of his debilitating affliction, which renders him unfit for capital punishment. The decision provides a glimmer of hope and renewed faith in the judicial system, showcasing that the court recognizes and respects the need for considering individual health and well-being in rendering verdicts. We hope that this ruling sets a precedent for the betterment of legal aid and the re-evaluation of similar cases to ensure that justice is served even to those struggling with mental illness.
A recent development in Florida has brought about a new law that is designed to significantly increase the consequences of committing a particularly heinous crime. The bill, which was signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis back in May, establishes a minimum sentence of life without parole for individuals who are found guilty of the heinous crime of raping a minor. However, what is particularly noteworthy about this law is that it goes even further than this, allowing individuals convicted of this crime to be sentenced to the death penalty. This has been hailed by many as a significant step forward in the fight against child abuse in Florida, and it is hoped that it will send a strong message to would-be offenders that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated in any way.
Indiana Public Media has recently released a gripping and comprehensive 13-part series called “Rush to Kill.” With an intense focus on the six-month killing spree of then-President Donald Trump, this series delves into the events of 2020 where Trump, along with his Attorney General Bill Barr, ordered the execution of 13 individuals – twelve men and one woman – in the final months of Trump’s presidency. The series provides a detailed and exhaustive analysis of these events, and aims to shed light on the political machinations behind them. Additionally, we recommend the review of Stephen B. Bright’s and James Kwak’s thought-provoking book, “The Fear of Too Much Justice: Race, Poverty, and the Persistence of Inequality in the Criminal Courts.” Together, these two recommended works strive to challenge and interrogate our society’s relationship with justice, and how it intersects with issues of race, poverty, and inequality.
In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey scheduled an execution date for Casey McWhorter for a 30-hour window between midnight November 16, and 6 a.m., November 17, the Montgomery Advertiser reports. McWhorter was sentenced to death for the 1993 murder of Edward Lee Williams. He was 18 when he was sentenced to death by a jury in a 10-2 vote. He had four accomplices, including the 15-year-old son of the victim, but he was the only defendant sentenced to death.
In Texas, 48-year-old Jedidiah Murphy was killed by lethal injection early this month for the murder of 80-year-old Bertie Lee Cunningham in October 2000, CBS News reported. Murphy was killed after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal judge’s order that had been upheld by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, delaying his execution after his lawyers “filed a lawsuit seeking DNA testing of evidence presented at his 2001 trial,” according to CBS.
Also in Texas, Will Speer was granted a stay of execution last Thursday, less than 24 hours before he was scheduled to be killed by the state. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay for Speer, whose attorneys alleged that prosecutors withheld evidence and presented false testimony during his 2001 trial. He also alleges that his trial lawyers failed to provide evidence of the severe physical and sexual abuse he was subjected to as a child. Speer, sentenced to death for the killing of another imprisoned individual, was named the first “Inmate Coordinator for the Death Row Faith-Based Program” just a few months ago by corrections officials.
In Idaho, the Commission of Pardons and Parole agreed to a commutation hearing for Thomas Creech, who was scheduled to be executed on November 8. The commission’s decision, announced in a news release from the Federal Defender Services of Idaho, means his execution date will be postponed. A date for the hearing was not set. “He looks forward to elaborating on the reasons for requesting to have his death sentence commuted to life without parole when the hearing is held,” the statement said. The 73-year-old Creech has garnered broad support for commutation, including from the judge who sentenced him to death 44 years ago. Judge Robert Newhouse said killing Creech now would be “just an act of vengeance” by the state, according to the FDS. Creech has been on the state’s death row longer than anyone else. There are currently eight people on the state’s death row. Idaho’s last execution was in July 2012, when it executed Richard Leavitt by lethal injection.
In Utah, Ralph Menzies, sentenced to death in 1988 for the 1986 kidnapping and murder of Maurine Hunsaker, has exhausted his appeals and will face a hearing this month where a judge is expected to sign his death warrant, the Utah Attorney General announced in a news release. But according to Fox 13, the Utah Board of Pardons & Parole could commute his sentence. In addition, Menzies is one of four others on death row who have filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s execution protocol. Utah’s primary method of execution is lethal injection, but when the drugs aren’t available, it relies on a firing squad to kill its citizens. It’s believed the state does not have the drugs it would need to kill Menzies.
In Oklahoma, Philip Hancock, scheduled to be killed November 30, filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking DNA testing on evidence he maintains could establish that he acted in self-defense, the City Sentinel reports. Hancock was convicted and sentenced to death for killing Robert Jett and James Lynch in 2001. He has always maintained that he acted in self-defense. In his lawsuit, Hancock states that DNA testing of Lynch’s fingernail scrapings and his clothing, as well as Jett’s clothing, wallet, and a letter recovered from the scene would “to prove that Jett and Lynch violently assaulted Hancock immediately before, and then while, Hancock shot them in self-defense.” None of the crime scene evidence has ever been tested. Republican Reps. Kevin McDugle and Justin Humphrey and former Pardon and Parole Board member Adam Luck are asking the parole board to recommend clemency for Hancock, and for Gov. Kevin Stitt to commute his sentence, KOSU reported.