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How an Arizona case could change California death penalty laws

SAN QUENTIN, CA - AUGUST 15:  An armed California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) officer escorts a condemned inamte at San Quentin State Prison's death row on August 15, 2016 in San Quentin, California.  San Quentin State Prison opened in 1852 and is California's oldest penitentiary. The facility houses the state's only death row for men that currently has 700 condemned inmates.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
An armed California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) officer escorts a condemned inamte at San Quentin State Prison's death row on August 15, 2016 in San Quentin, California.

California is facing possible changes to its death penalty laws.

California is facing possible changes to its death penalty laws.

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, an Arizona case is putting the topic on the Supreme Court’s table, though the court has not moved to take it. According to Arizona law, nearly every first-degree murderer can potentially receive capital punishment charges. But the lawsuit in question is challenging that.

The suit brings accusations of state violations for 1970s-era Supreme Court rulings which restrict the death penalty to categories of extreme killers. Lawyers for convicted double murderer Abel Hidalgo have brought the case before the court on Hidalgo’s behalf.

California’s death penalty laws are similarly broad. A prosecution-backed initiative in 1978 removed narrower capital punishment limits. And the death penalty later could be applied to unintentional murders and accomplices of other crimes who accidentally killed someone.

The Arizona case has been on the Supreme Court’s conference agenda six times already, and it’s unclear why a decision has not been made on whether to move forward with the case. But if Arizona’s death penalty laws are overturned, a big question will be posed to California voters.

Larry Mantle speaks to a panel of experts following the case to find out how it could impact the Golden State.

Guests:

Bob Egelko, legal affairs reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle; he wrote the recent article, “California’s death penalty law may hinge on outcome of Arizona case”; he tweets at

Laurie L. Levenson, former federal prosecutor and a professor of law at Loyola Law School

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