Friday, May 12, 2006

People v. Boyer (Cal. Supreme Ct. - May 11, 2006)

I don't see how anyone -- on either side of the issue -- can be legitimately happy with this state of affairs.

Richard Boyer allegedly commits a murder in 1982. He's convicted and sentenced to death in 1984. But the confession admitted at his first trial was obtained in violation of Miranda, so in 1989, the California Supreme Court reverses his conviction and remands for a new trial. At which point he's again convicted and sentenced to death. At which point there's another automatic appeal to the California Supreme Court. Which, in this opinion, unanimously affirms his conviction and death sentence.

So now it's 2006. 24 years after the murder. So even after bypassing the California Court of Appeal (twice), Boyer's been on death row for 22 years. And he still hasn't even started his California habeas petitions, much less has he begin his federal habeas petition(s). Don't forget the United States Supreme Court as well, which can step in at any point along the line.

As a result, 24 years after the murder, and after 22 years in prison, Boyer's still got a long, long way to go until there's even the slightest risk that he's actually going to be executed. So we're looking at 30 years, minimum, until he's potentially killed by the state for what he's done. With the resulting (1) delay, (2) expense, and (3) change in Boyer, who may well be a substantially different person at the time of his execution than he was 30 years ago when he committed the crime.

As astute readers may well know, there's an ongoing debate between (in particular) Justices Breyer and Thomas about whether such lengthy delays might make imposition of the death penalty in such cases unconstitutionally cruel and unusual. Justice Breyer likes to dissent from the denial of certiorari in such cases, Justice Thomas likes to concur in the denial to insult on Justice Breyer, and Justice Stevens likes to make a "statement" respecting these denials that notes that the denial isn't an expression on the merits. That's the dance that's been performed for quite a while now. And I see no reason why it won't happen here also -- except, of course, that there's a darn good chance that Boyer, Breyer, Stevens, and/or Thomas will be dead before this particular dance actually takes place in Boyer's case.

Ah, the death penalty. The very best part of American jurisprudence.