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CA’s Newsom, DAs Seek Restrictions on Death Penalty

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has already declared a moratorium on executions in the state, went a step further Monday with an unprecedented court filing that asserted the state’s death penalty law is applied in a racist manner against African Americans, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Newsom’s state Supreme Court filing did not call for abolishing the death penalty — an option narrowly rejected by voters in 2012 and 2016 — but argued that a jury imposing a death sentence must find beyond a reasonable doubt that it was the proper punishment, rather than life in prison without parole. Newsom said jurors should be allowed to consider factors favoring the death penalty, such as other violent acts by the defendant, only if they agreed unanimously that those events had occurred. Those standards would make it more difficult for prosecutors to persuade jurors to impose a death sentence.

Newsom said, “the death penalty “has been disproportionately applied — first, to enslaved Africans and African Americans, and, later to free Black people. With this filing, we make clear that all Californians deserve the same right to a jury trial that is fair, and that it is a matter of life and death.” The brief was the first by a California governor challenging the state’s application of the death penalty.  A similar brief was submitted by four district attorneys — Chesa Boudin of San Francisco, Diana Becton of Contra Costa County, Jeffrey Rosen of Santa Clara County and Tori Verber Salazar of San Joaquin County — and two former district attorneys, George Gascón of San Francisco and Gil Garcetti of Los Angeles County. The six said they wanted to “ensure that the death sentence is chosen (if at all) for only the worst offenders and offenses.” The state has 711 inmates on Death Row, more than one-third of them Black.