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California Bar Conference Supports Moratorium on Death Penalty
Resolution Sponsored by The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF)

October 12, 2004-- San Francisco
-- At its just concluded meeting in Monterey , California , the Conference of Delegates of the California Bar Associations (CDCBA) voted overwhelmingly in support of a resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty in California . The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) sponsored the moratorium. The CDCBA is a group of more than 450 delegates from bar associations all around the state of California who meet annually to consider law reform.

Jon Streeter, President of BASF, the sponsor of the death penalty moratorium resolution, called the CDCBA's vote a "historic step, an acknowledgment by bar leaders across the state that our system of imposing capital punishment is seriously flawed and that a comprehensive study of reforms is necessary." The CDCBA is seeking a temporary halt to executions while a study takes place.

Two years ago, Governor George Ryan imposed a death penalty moratorium in Illinois . The CDCBA's proposal draws from the Illinois experience and is specifically modeled on proposed federal legislation that was co-sponsored last year by Senator John Kerry. If the California legislature were to pass legislation adopting the CDCBA's moratorium resolution, it ultimately has to be approved by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has yet to stake out a public position on the issue.

To implement its moratorium resolution, the CDCBA will now begin seeking a legislative sponsor to introduce moratorium legislation in the upcoming 2005 legislative term. The CDCBA's proposal calls for the legislature to establish a 13-member blue-ribbon commission to undertake comprehensive examination of the administration and application of the death penalty in California.

The death penalty study commission proposed by CDCBA would be a bipartisan panel composed of a cross-section of experts, including prosecutors, death penalty defense lawyers, retired judges, and members of the public. The commission would have two years to complete its work and submit a report to the legislature.

The commission would be charged with looking at a host of questions, including whether innocent people are being put to death; whether the death penalty in California is discriminatory, by race, by income level or by geography; whether those charged with capital crimes are receiving adequate representation, and exactly what the fiscal impact of the death penalty is every year.

The death penalty reform movement is picking up steam in California. Popular support for capital punishment remains strong, but has been softening for years. Polls show that 60% of Californians favor the death penalty, but that is down from 73% in the 1980s. While a solid majority continues to support capital punishment, 48% of Californians support a death penalty moratorium.

The CDCBA's moratorium proposal builds on action that has already been taken in the state Senate. Following several high profile cases of wrongful conviction, in August 2004 the Senate established the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, which is charged with examining the state's criminal justice system generally.

The new Senate Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice will look generally at why and how often California's criminal justice system has failed in the past, "resulting in wrongful executions or the wrongful conviction of innocent persons." The Senate has directed the Commission to "examine ways of providing safeguards and making improvements in the way the criminal justice system functions" in California.

Because errors in capital punishment are final and irrevocable, the CDCBA sees the need for a study focused specifically on the death penalty, coupled with a moratorium. According to BASF President Streeter, "we are now at a critical juncture, because many of those cases are now nearing the end of the appellate review process. Very soon, we are going to be seeing very frequent executions in this state. It is a matter of sheer numbers."

Often, according to Streeter, basic questions in death penalty cases - sometimes calling into question whether defendant may be innocent --arise at the end of the process, during the pardon process. "Before we start executing people en masse," says Streeter, "now is the time to step back and take a long, hard, objective look at the fairness of the system."

"The CDCBA's moratorium proposal does not presuppose going in that our death penalty system in California must be abolished or reformed," says Streeter. With polls showing a steady decline in public support for the death penalty in recent years, the CDCBA proposes to answer once and for all the many lingering questions that have swirled around the death penalty for years.

One unique aspect of the CDBCA's proposal is its specific charge that the death penalty study commission look at the costs of capital punishment to taxpayers. "Despite strongly held opposing views about the need for the death penalty," Streeter points out, "I am hopeful that the massive amounts of money we spend on capital punishment -- by some estimates, $100 million per year, at minimum -- will galvanize the commission members and provide common ground when we consider the need for reform."

The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) is a nonprofit voluntary membership organization of over 8,000 attorneys, law students and legal professionals in the Bay Area. Founded in 1872, BASF is one of the largest and most dynamic metropolitan bar associations in the U.S., with a long and distinguished record of community action, public service and service to the legal profession.

Questions about media relations, BASF issues currently in the news, San Francisco Attorney magazine, marketing and communications:

Ann Murphy, Director of Communications & Public Relations
(415) 782-9000 x8792

For general communications inquiries:

Sayre Happich, Assistant Director of Communications & Public Relations
(415) 782-9000 x8104