ACLU Calls on District Attorney Lacey to Eliminate Death Penalty Sentencing in Los Angeles

New Data Show County's Death Sentences Characterized by Racial Bias, Unfit Lawyers

June 18, 2019 9:00 am

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LOS ANGELES — The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Southern California released a white paper today revealing first-of-its-kind data around Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s record as it relates to the death penalty.

DA Lacey was first elected to her seat in December of 2012. Since then, 22 people have been sentenced to death. Key findings from the report include:

  • All of the 22 defendants sentenced to death are people of color — 13 were Latinx, eight were Black and one was Asian. Not a single white defendant has been sentenced to death during DA Lacey’s tenure, although there were white defendants who were eligible for the punishment.
  • Race of the victim also played a major role in determining who received a death sentence — just 12 percent of homicide victims in LA County each year are white, but 36 percent of the cases that led to a death sentence during DA Lacey’s tenure had at least one white victim.
  • These defendants were represented by unfit lawyers — nine of the 22 defendants sentenced to die were represented by lawyers who were previously or subsequently disbarred, suspended, or charged with misconduct. A tenth had a lawyer who repeatedly fell asleep through his trial.
  • LA County has produced more death sentences than any other county in the country — over the past five years, LA has also produced more death sentences per capita than any large county in Texas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, or Georgia. From 2014 to 2018, only LA and Riverside Counties in California and Maricopa County in Arizona sentenced more than 10 people to death in a given year. Of the 723 people currently under a sentence of death in California, nearly a third (31 percent) are from Los Angeles.

“LA County is an example of everything wrong with the death penalty,” said Cassandra Stubbs, director of the Capital Punishment Project at the ACLU. “Abysmal defense lawyering, geographic disparities, and racial bias are the legacy of its unfair and discriminatory use of the death penalty. LA is one of the largest drivers of death sentences nationwide, despite the repeated rejection of the death penalty at the ballot box by LA 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.”

In March 2019, California Governor Newsom issued a moratorium on the death penalty, effectively halting all executions while he’s governor. Despite that, DA Lacey continues to sentence people to death.

“California is at a moment of reckoning with respect to the death penalty,” said Jessica Farris, director of criminal justice at the ACLU SoCal. “Governor Newsom’s moratorium on state-sanctioned killing reinforces what Angelenos have repeatedly expressed at the ballot boxes — the discriminatory and unfair death penalty has no place in a just California. Despite the moratorium and opposition from the DA’s constituents, Lacey’s office continues to seek the death penalty in the face of unmistakable evidence that the practice disproportionately affects Black and brown people and people without access to quality counsel. DA Lacey holds the power to immediately end death sentences in LA County. We hope she will.”

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