Fewer death sentences were handed down by California courts during the first half of 2011 than during any six-month period since 1978, according to a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.
Just three defendants were sentenced to death from January to June of this year, compared to 13 over the same period last year. "California's death penalty is dead," Natasha Minsker of the ACLU said in a statement. "The signs are clear: Prosecutors are moving towards life imprisonment with no chance of parole over the legal fiction that is California's death penalty."
Executions have been on hold in California for more than five years because of lawsuits, a factor that might help account for why the death penalty is not being sought as often. Additionally, state prison officials have faced a scandal over the shortage of chemicals used for lethal injection. That shortage has led them to procure drugs from questionable sources in other countries.
The state assembly's public safety committee hears testimony today on SB 490, a bill that would abolish the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment with no possibility of parole. Among the bill's backers is Jeanne Woodford, who served as warden of San Quentin State Prison -- overseeing four executions during her tenure -- and director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Follow us on Twitter at @SFWeekly and @TheSnitchSF