In the News


Elisabeth Semel in the news:



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.”


Tsarnaevs’ cousin avoids the spotlight

Elisabeth Semel quoted in POLITICO, May 3, 2013

“In a capital case where there’s more than one defendant-suspect, it’s always important to investigate what the relative roles of each of the actors was,” said Elisabeth Semel of the University of California Berkeley law school’s Death Penalty Clinic. She declined to comment on the specifics of the Tsarnaev case.


In the face of death: special allegations change how a defendant should be represented

Elisabeth Semel quoted in Times-Standard, March 22, 2013

Semel said whenever the prosecution in a criminal case alleges special circumstances—unless he or she says specifically that they are not seeking the death penalty—it becomes a capital-eligible case. “It is critical that the defense lawyer at that point begins thinking about and investigating the case from that perspective,” she said.


1972 death penalty decision has lasting impact

Elisabeth Semel quoted in KGO-TV, March 4, 2013

“I think it’s hard for the public to grasp this,” UC Berkeley Death Penalty Clinic Director Elisabeth Semel said. “People who’ve been convicted of murder have a better rate of success, that is, a lower recidivism rate, than individuals who commit other types of crimes.”


California death penalty: Will state follow Arizona, which has resumed executions after a long hiatus?

Elisabeth Semel quoted in San Jose Mercury News, January 20, 2013

“At some point,” said Elisabeth Semel, head of UC Berkeley law school’s death penalty clinic, “if all of those (legal challenges) fail, we have to face the prospect of executions.”


Ballots for Bears: California Proposition 34

Elisabeth Semel interviewed by CalTV, October 27, 2012

“If you look at those four thousand people serving the sentence of life without possibility of parole, and you compare them to the 725 people on death row, what you will find is people convicted of the same crimes…. What we see in California is that crime rises and crime falls for various reasons having to do with the economy and all sorts of other considerations, but the amount of violent crime is not traceable to whether we have a deathpenalty or don’t.”


Death penalty sentences waning in East Bay

Elisabeth Semel quoted in San Jose Mercury News, August 18, 2012

“Prosecutors are increasingly willing to use the punishment of life without the possibility of parole and recognize that it is more acceptable to the general public,” said Elisabeth Semel, a professor of law at UC Berkeley Law School. “The decreasing popularity of the death penalty … has an influence in the decision.”


Prosecutors use of death penalty waning in Alameda County

Elisabeth Semel quoted in Oakland Tribune, August 13, 2012

“Prosecutors are increasingly willing to use the punishment of life without the possibility of parole and recognize that it is more acceptable to the general public,” said Elisabeth Semel, professor of law at Berkeley Law School. “The decreasing popularity of the death penalty … has an influence in the decision.”