California Death Penalty Future in Doubt after Court Ruling

A Marin County Superior Court judge has finalized a ruling that California's lethal injection protocol for executions is invalid. 

That protocol was developed after a federal judge stopped all executions until an approved procedure was adopted.

The ruling means nothing much will change because California hasn't executed anyone since 2006, even though there are more than 700 inmates on death row.  Whether there will ever be another execution in California is in question.

"The death penalty is going the way of the dinosaur," said University of the Pacific McGeorge Law School professor John Meyers.

Meyers says fewer criminals are being condemned than ever before in the country and internationally thanks to lobbying efforts by human rights organizations.  Elected District Attorneys will still go for the death penalty in more egregious cases.

"They would have to answer to the public if they didn't try to go forward with the death penalty," said Meyers.

Meyers also said the fairness of the death penalty is being questioned, given the fact that many more minorities are executed than caucasians.

"If you can't apply the death penalty fairly, then why have it?" said Meyers.

The former federal prosecutor who helped reinstate California's death penalty in a voter initiative in 1978 now says the death penalty is impractical.

"We spent four billion dollars execuiting 13 people," said Donald Heller referring to the cost of California executions.

Heller also believes capital punishment doesn't deter murders, saying criminals never believe they'll be caught. He did say that many people don't look at practicality when it comes to the death penalty.

"They want, to them, vengeance and you can understand it, it's a normal feeling," said Heller.

But he endorses an effort to put a ballot initiative on the November 2012 ballot repealing the death penalty.

"I think it's on the way out," said Heller.

Polls consistently show voters favor the death penalty, but recent surveys also show, when given a choice, life without parole prevails. 

Today's court ruling may yet be appealed by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.  It could also go through the public process of approving anther lethal injection protcol, which took a year to complete the last time around.