The L.A. Times published a compelling article this week on what they call the “log jam” of death row appeals cases, causing many inmates to wait more than ten years for an attorney to assist them with appeals and habeas corpus challenges.
The California Supreme Court has called it a “critical shortage” and says it’s been there for years. Several factors play a role in the shortage including inadequate funding and the knowledge that death penalty cases are usually upheld—making them particularly gut-wrenching.
Emotionally, leading someone to death row can be excruciating and many defense attorneys have literally exhausted themselves financially, physically, and mentally for cases like this.
Of course death penalty supporters and prosecutors alike claim the process needs to be sped up and that the “culture of criminal defense” work is to blame. Within the Times report, one person is quoted as saying, “The idea that you have to pull out every stop in every case is excessive.” He has obviously never been a defendant or hasn’t seen the scores of wrongful conviction cases being uncovered across the nation.
Particularly in death penalty cases, every single rock should be unturned. To imply that being meticulous in these cases is “excessive” isn’t only insensitive, it borders on unethical.
It’s true that some defense lawyers won’t take such cases because they don’t want to play any role in the fate of someone dying at the hands of the state. But some people have gone so far as to suggest defense attorneys are purposefully slowing the process, an allegation that simply has no merit.
Currently, there are more than 700 inmates on California Death Row, the most of any state in the nation. Many of them are simply waiting for an attorney to represent them in their post conviction appeals.
Whether you are facing a death sentence or even 30 days in the local jail, you want a criminal defense attorney who will turn over every rock and explore every possibility to get you the best results possible—that’s what a defense attorney is for.
You’re under enough stress, as a defendant, without having to battle the system alone. Relying on a defense lawyer to have your back when you go before the judge allows you to focus on the things that matter and have confidence that they will do everything possible to get the most positive outcome on your behalf.