In the News


Elisabeth Semel in the news:



Exclusion of blacks from juries raises renewed scrutiny

Elisabeth A. Semel quoted in The New York Times, August 16, 2015

“If you repeatedly see all-white juries convict African-Americans, what does that do to public confidence in the criminal justice system?” asked Elisabeth A. Semel.


Will Supreme Court ruling reopen death chamber at San Quentin?

Elisabeth Semel quoted in The Press Enterprise, June 29, 2015

“It is premature to speculate about how this is going to play out,” said Elisabeth Semel. “The future of the death penalty in California is very much up in the air.”


California now under pressure to propose lethal injection method

Elisabeth Semel quoted in Los Angeles Times, June 29, 2015

Anyone who considers California’s resumption of executions “needs also to contemplate the fact that this means we are going to put to death 750 people”—the approximate number on death row—“which I don’t think anyone has the appetite for,” she said.


9th Circuit overturns state Supreme Court and vacates a man’s death sentence

Elisabeth Semel interviewed for Daily Journal (registration required), June 3, 2015

“The 9th Circuit has not hesitated to take on the California Supreme Court when it concludes that the high court has given short shrift to federal constitutional requirements, and did so today in Pensinger.” The circuit panel found that the omitted instruction, Semel noted, “is a constitutional necessity, not mere state law nicety.”


At high court, a new era on death penalty

Elisabeth Semel quoted in Daily Journal (registration required), April 28, 2015

“It’s important to be cautious about talking of a sea change at the Supreme Court, but in the broader view there is a very concrete acknowledgement that it’s important to explore how influenced jurors are by arguments that defendants will be a danger. This issue of future dangerousness if the defendant is not put to death is on the minds of jurors, and the court is really underscoring how decisive that argument can be.”


9th Circuit overturns death penalty

Elisabeth Semel quoted in Daily Journal (registration required), April 1, 2015

“Our clients are forced to deal with the public shame and enormous repercussions of their actions during the litigation of their case,” said Elisabeth Semel … “But it’s the norm. These are the narratives that have to be told for juries and courts to understand how the lives of our clients were derailed.”


America has a jury selection problem—and it’s killing black people

Elisabeth Semel quoted in Takepart, April 1, 2015

“White people are always thinking about getting out of [jury duty] as opposed to being excluded from it,” Semel said. “That’s a luxury. There’s a focus on the killing of African American young men by police officers, but there’s another kind of violence here, in stripping away the civil rights of people when they’re eliminated from juries based on race.”


Defense lawyers gaining ground in state legislature

Elisabeth Semel quoted in Daily Journal (registration required), September 10, 2014

“It’s an exciting development to see that there’s more interest and receptivity to legislation that improves protections for people accused of crimes.”


Atty. Gen. Harris seeks to overturn ban on California executions

Elisabeth Semel quoted in Los Angeles Times, August 21, 2014

Elisabeth Semel … said it was impossible to predict what the 9th Circuit might do. She said the Supreme Court has not directly addressed the issues raised by Carney. “The court has rejected delay as a viable 8th Amendment challenge in some cases, yes, but it hasn’t done so definitively.”


9th Circuit chief judge calls for firing squads in opinion

Elisabeth Semel quoted in Daily Journal, July 22, 2014

Elisabeth A. Semel … added that Kozinski will no doubt be quoted and discussed as lawmakers come to grips with the problems inherent in the lethal injection method. “Yes, there will be more talk now in state legislatures fueled by what Judge Kozinski said,” Semel said. “Although his bigger picture message today isn’t going to alter the litigation over what is going on in Arizona.”


Ruling against death penalty based on judges’ law review articles, studies

Elisabeth Semel quoted in Daily Journal, July 18, 2014

Elisabeth A. Semel said it was important to Carney’s opinion “that he has two 9th Circuit judges to rely on who have thought carefully about the California death penalty.” Semel, the director of the school’s Death Penalty Clinic, said Kozinski in the mid-90’s gets credit “for looking forward to see it’s going to be an ever bigger mess” as more inmates were sent to death row even as the pace of executions slowed.


What the ruling on California’s death penalty means

Elisabeth Semel interviewed by Uprising Radio, July 18, 2014

“The delays are fundamentally, primarily, the function of the state’s inability to move these cases any more quickly. The process is arbitrary; there is no rational distinction between individuals who are ultimately executed and those who are not—and instead spend twenty-five plus years on death row—and that in essence violates the 8th amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.”


Federal judge rules California death penalty unconstitutional

Elisabeth Semel quoted in Los Angeles Times, July 16, 2014

Elisabeth Semel … described Wednesday’s decision as “unprecedented in the modern death penalty in California.” “This is an issue that has been discussed in California for decades,” she said. “What he did is both amass and synthesize what [this means] in the context of the 8th Amendment.”


California death penalty system is unconstitutional, federal judge rules

Elisabeth Semel quoted in The New York Times, July 16, 2014

Calling it “a stunningly important and unprecedented ruling,” Elisabeth A. Semel … said that the “factually dense” and “well-reasoned” opinion was likely to be cited in other cases in California and elsewhere.


California death penalty ruled unconstitutional

Elisabeth Semel interviewed by Capital Public Radio, July 16, 2014

“If the system is arbitrary, then it doesn’t serve the legitimate purposes of capital punishment, at least as the U.S. Supreme Court has declared them,” she says. “It doesn’t deter, and it doesn’t serve the purpose of retribution.”


The Supreme Court and lethal injection: when is it cruel and unusual?

Elisabeth Semel quoted on ABC Blog, The Note, May 22, 2014

“I would emphasize,” Semel says, “that the state’s insistence on secrecy with regard to the source of the compounded pentobarbital adds to the risk that Mr. Bucklew will suffer an agonizing execution, which the Eighth Amendment prohibits.”


Why Oklahoma matters in California

Elisabeth Semel writes for Daily Journal, May 9, 2014 (subscription required)

Those who are chomping at the bit for California to resume executions would do well to pay heed not only to last week’s debacle in Oklahoma, but also to the botched executions that took place in other states over the past few months.


Oklahoma execution nightmare shines light on California policies

Elisabeth Semel quoted in San Francisco Chronicle, May 1, 2014

Elizabeth Semel … agreed that California is less secretive than Oklahoma. But with a dwindling supply of execution drugs, she said, prison officials in other states have resorted to non-FDA chemicals or compound drugs whose manufacturers are reluctant to be identified. “The less reliable the source of chemicals, the greater the need to know who is manufacturing them and what their composition is,” as the Oklahoma execution illustrates, she said.


A question of bias in jury selection

Elisabeth Semel quoted in the Sacramento Bee, January 5, 2014
Semel says the [clinic] brief urges the court “to ultimately decide that when a trial court rejects a Batson objection, the court must explain on the record that it has evaluated all the circumstances related to the issue of discrimination. If a trial judge fails to do so, a reviewing court should not accept the trial court’s unexplained ruling.”


Use of race in peremptory challenges before justices

Elisabeth Semel quoted in National Law Journal, December 11, 2013 (registration required)

“I’m kind of a Batson wonk,” said Semel, who has filed amicus briefs not only in Williams’ case but in other Batson-related Supreme Court cases. “I knew about the [Williams] case before it was argued. When the opinion came down, I said to his lawyer, ‘If you’re interested, I’m interested in doing an amicus brief.’ He said yes.”