In the News

Elisabeth Semel in the news:

Death penalty cases may speed up, but critics say Prop. 66 will not work

Elisabeth Semel quoted by Daily Journal (registration required), Nov. 10, 2016

Prop. 66 attempts to dictate how the state Supreme Court will manage its docket and takes from the Judicial Council the authority to establish the qualifications for defending capital cases and disbursing it to superior courts, Semel said, calling the initiative “a patchwork of ill-conceived ideas” that ignores constitutional rights.

The death penalty thrived at the ballot box, but it’s still declining

Elisabeth Semel quoted by Yahoo! News, Nov. 9, 2016

“As I talked to [voters] who were not lawyers, I found they generally understood Prop. 62 but were absolutely flummoxed by 66,” she said. “Some of them thought, ‘Well, if we can’t get rid of it, perhaps we can remedy it,’ without understanding the particulars of the initiative.”

Initiatives will improve criminal justice system

Elisabeth Semel quoted by Daily Journal (registration required), Nov. 7, 2016

“There is decreased support even among people who philosophically support the death penalty,” said Elisabeth Semel. … She said it harms more than helps the nation, whether it’s “the tremendous costs, the steady number of exonerations, or an increased awareness of how consistently capital punishment is reserved for the poor and people of color.”

On the death penalty, California voters face two stark choices

Elisabeth Semel quoted by San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 14, 2016

“It’s modeled after the laws in Texas, where we know innocent people have been executed,” said Elisabeth Semel, director of the Death Penalty Clinic at UC Berkeley Law School. Death penalty supporters heatedly dispute that claim, but Semel cited the Texas case of Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in 2004 for killing his three children in a fire that a series of experts, including one hired by the state, have since concluded was most likely accidental.

Act aims to end death penalty in California

Elisabeth Semel quoted in National Catholic Reporter, June 7, 2016

Semel said switching the system to life without the possibility of parole is estimated to cost just over $11 million per year, as opposed to $150 million. “That is an enormous difference in a state that has profound needs in the area of education, housing and social services.”

Voters could have say on death penalty as death row backs up

Elisabeth Semel interviewed by The California Report, KQED-FM, Jan. 15, 2016

“It’s really a disservice to the people of the state to perpetuate something that not only doesn’t work effectively, but really is irreparable. … The prospect of executing 745 people is illusory.  So, there will be a randomness to the number of people we execute in the state until we finally recognize that we’re done with it.”

9th Circuit impugns Arizona’s sentencing

Elisabeth Semel interviewed by Daily Journal (registration required), Dec. 30, 2015

“It is entirely in keeping with the precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court,” Semel said. In recent cases reviewing the use of a causal nexus rule in Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a “nexus requirement prevents a sentencer from giving meaningful consideration to constitutionally relevant mitigation,” Semel said.

Prosecutor’s memory lapse yields habeas relief

Elisabeth Semel interviewed by Daily Journal (registration required), Nov. 23, 2015

“I think the court was more generous with the prosecutor than I would have been … especially since the panel acknowledged that the prosecutor basically regurgitated the state court’s rank speculation as to why he might have struck the juror. It was as if the state court provided him a script.”

9th Circuit finds prosecutor excluded juror based on race, reverses murder conviction

Elisabeth Semel quoted in Daily Journal (registration required), Oct. 27, 2015

The state Supreme Court, which affirmed Crittenden’s conviction back in 1994, would likely take issue with both the majority and the dissent’s approval of “comparative juror analysis” as a tool for resolving these issues, according to Elisabeth A. Semel.

Pope Francis and the future of the death penalty

Elisabeth Semel interviewed by, September 24, 2015

“I do not believe in prognostication,” she said in an interview. But she allowed that, “it is fair to say we may be approaching a crossroads based on signs from multiple sources,” including popular opinion, legislatures, policymakers and declining death sentences and executions.

The worst of the worst

Elisabeth Semel quoted in The New Yorker, September 14, 2015

Elisabeth Semel, the Berkeley professor, notes that, with a death-qualified jury, “you are starting out with a jury that is conviction-prone and death-prone, because if they weren’t they wouldn’t be sitting there.”

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.”