Thursday, November 15, 2007

In Re Bell (Cal. Supreme Ct. - Nov. 15, 2007)

Want to see how you can spend nearly thirty years in state habeas proceedings in a death penalty case? With another decade or so to go before your federal habeas round gets resolved and you're actually at risk of being executed.

Here you go.

I'm not saying that there might not be meritorious claims here. But I don't think I recall the state rounds of habeas ever taking nearly this long in a case in which they were uniformly unsuccessful on the merits. Sure, sometimes a decade or two goes by, what with reversals, retrials, and the like. But the state habeas round for a 1978 murder taking until 2007 (and, in reality, 2008 at this point)? Wow.

I don't know how old the defendant, Ronald Lee Bell, was at the time of the offense. I do know, from the opinion, that even before the present 1978 murder for which he was sentenced to death, he had allegedly killed someone else -- and had been sentenced to manslaughter for that offense -- 10 years earlier. So I assume he was no spring chicken upon his present conviction. And so, both for that reason and because of the massive delay engendered by the state habeas round, the chances of him actually being executed (rather than simply dying in prison) are pretty darn low.

Amazing. I never recall seeing a state habeas round take this long.