In front of a roomful of Democratic lawyers today, Alameda County DA Nancy O’Malley tackled the prickly issue of when and how her office seeks the death penalty –- a topic that quite a few people had voiced concerns about at the September hearing when the county’s Board of Supervisors appointed her DA. She’d been invited to the meeting of the Alameda County Democratic Lawyers Club as part of a regular speaker series.
Responding at one point to questions from the audience about the county’s use of the death penalty, O’Malley said it’s rare: In the past 6 ½ years, she said, the office has charged about 350 murder cases, 106 of which had special circumstances, and it made the recommendation for the death penalty three times. “If the recommendation is made, it’s made rarely,” she said. “It’s a task that nobody takes more seriously than I.”
Sue Kleebauer, managing attorney of Alameda’s Court Appointed Attorney’s Program, asked O’Malley if the DA’s office will start to decide earlier whether a case is a death penalty case, in order to save the county money. “There is a huge cost up front to the county,” she said. O’Malley answered that she and Kleebauer and other members of the defense bar should get together to talk about it.
“She gave me a glimmer of hope by saying she wanted to meet with us and figure out a strategy,” Kleebauer said later.
The DA gets into victims' rights, too, after the jump ...
Prior to the Q&A, O’Malley also gave a speech focused primarily on victims’ rights. Known for her work in the area, O’Malley nevertheless gave the club a few criticisms of Marsy’s Law, the year-old law that expanded victims rights, such as the right to be given notice of each public proceeding.
As examples of its weaknesses, O’Malley noted that law doesn’t treat victims' domestic partners the same as their families, and said that more needs to be done to accommodate victims with disabilities.
She cited her experience prosecuting the case of Jared Adams, the defendant whose stray bullet paralyzed fifth-grader Christopher Rodriguez during a gas station holdup. “When we brought Chris to the court to testify, we had to literally lift him up in his chair to get him to a place to testify.”
Also, she said, balancing the constitutional rights of defendants with those of victims creates gray areas that need to be worked out. “I really think that we’re going to have to litigate some of those issues,” she said.
— Kate Moser