Los Angeles’ use of the death penalty is under a microscope following the release of a new American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report, which highlights the racial disparities of those sentenced to death within the county, calling into question the prosecutorial record of District Attorney Jackie Lacey.
According to the white paper that was put out in partnership with the ACLU of Southern California, DA Lacey’s office has sentenced 22 defendants to death, all of which are people of color. It also found that the race of the victim in these cases were overwhelmingly white.
Beyond that, those sentenced to death were often represented by lawyers who were unfit. The Guardian notes that in eight of 22 cases, defendants were represented by lawyers with serious misconduct charges prior or after their cases; in five of the 22 cases, the attorney was later suspended or disbarred. In reviewing the misconduct records of these lawyers, the ACLU found that in one specific case, the defense declined to make an opening statement and on numerous occasions, fell asleep during the trial.
In spite of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s moratorium on the death penalty, L.A. County, according to the report, still hands out more death sentences than any other county in the nation. There are 723 people in California facing a sentence of death. Almost a third are from Los Angeles.
“L.A. County is an example of everything wrong with the death penalty,” said Cassandra Stubbs, director of the Capital Punishment Project at the ACLU in a press release put out by the organization. “Abysmal defense lawyering, geographic disparities, and racial bias are the legacy of its unfair and discriminatory use of the death penalty. L.A. is one of the largest drivers of death sentences nationwide, despite the repeated rejection of the death penalty at the ballot box by L.A. voters. DA Lacey should take a step forward for racial justice and help end America’s failed experiment with the death penalty by announcing she will no longer tolerate death penalty cases under her watch.”
The ACLU estimates the death penalty costs California taxpayers at least $139 million per year. In a statement obtained by The Guardian, DA Lacey said that her office has an “extensive review processes” for deciding whether or not they will pursue the death penalty and their decisions are based on fact “without regard to the race of a defendant or a victim.”