Last week, we began our review of the originating jurisdiction for the California Supreme Court’s docket since 2000 with a look at the civil and criminal dockets between 2000 and 2004. We discovered that while Los Angeles County, the largest county in the state in terms of population, dominates both the criminal and civil docket, the rest of the docket is not especially correlated with population. Today, we look at a particular subset of the criminal docket – automatic appeals from death sentences under Penal Code Section 1239(b). We would expect the death penalty docket to have at least some relation to population, but that correlation is tempered by the political leanings of a particular county, since in order to wind up on the Court’s death docket, a prosecutor must first seek the death penalty and a jury must agree to impose it. If that theory turns out to be true, we would expect to see jurisdictions on the list with lesser populations, but more of a conservative political inclination.
In Table 37 below, we report the home counties of the death penalty appeals heard by the Court from 2000 to 2004. Once again, Los Angeles dominates, accounting for five death cases in 2000, four in 2001, only two in 2002, seven in 2003 and six in 2004. Measured against population, this means Los Angeles is slightly overrepresented during these years on the death docket – while it had 26.38% of the state’s population (as of 2010), it accounted for 30.38% of the death penalty appeals. Next most common was Shasta County, which accounted for six death penalty appeals in these five years – one per year, except for 2002, in which there were two. San Bernardino County, the fifth most populous county in the state, was third in death penalty appeals with five – one in 2000 and 2003, and three in 2004. Orange, Alameda and Riverside counties, which are third, seventh and fourth, respectively, in population, also produced five death penalty appeals apiece. San Diego, the second biggest county in population, produced four death penalty appeals during these years, as did two relatively sparsely populated Kern and Stanislaus counties. Sacramento and Contra Costa counties were next, with three death penalty appeals spread across the five-year period. El Dorado, Santa Clara and Fresno counties produced two death penalty appeals each. Not surprisingly, San Francisco County was a minor player on the death penalty docket with only one death penalty appeal – presumably a product of a historically liberal jury pool. San Joaquin County accounted for one death penalty appeal, as did Madera, Butte and Monterey counties.
Join us back here tomorrow as we turn our attention to the makeup of the civil docket between 2005 and 2009.