Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Justice Breyer takes another jab at the death penalty in certiorari dissent

Richard Boyer was initially sentenced to death 32 years ago. He has been on death row in California since that time.  His case came before the U.S. Supreme Court this week on a Writ of Certiorari alleging among other things that sitting on death row for 32 years is itself cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Certiorari was denied but Justice David Breyer wrote an interesting dissent to the order:

The Report and Recommendations on the Administration of the Death Penalty in California 6 (2008). wrote that more than 10 percent of the capital sentences issued in California since 1978 had been reversed. It noted that many prisoners had died of natural causes before their sentences were carried out, and more California death row inmates had committed suicide than had been executed by the State. Indeed, only a small, apparently random set of death row inmates had been executed.  A vast and growing majority remained incarcerated, on death row under a threat of execution for ever longer periods of time.  The Commission added that California’s death penalty system was expensive, with its system for capital cases costing more than 10 times what the Commission estimated the cost would be for a system that substituted the death penalty with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Put simply, California’s costly “administration of the death penalty” likely embodies “three fundamental defects” about which I have previously written: “(1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application, and (3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty’s penological purpose.” Glossip v. Gross, 576 U. S. ___, ___ (2015) (BREYER, J., dissenting); see Lackey v. Texas, 514 U. S. 1045 (1995) (memorandum of Stevens, J., respecting denial of certiorari); see also Valle v. Florida, 564 U. S. 1067 (2011) (BREYER, J., dissenting from denial of stay); Knight v. Florida, 528 U. S. 990, 993 (1999) (BREYER, J., dissenting from denial of certiorari). For these reasons, I respectfully dissent.

Boyer v. Davis, 578 U.S. ___ (2016).

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