Iíve got to admit, I am somewhat impressed with new Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley so far.† First, there is his flexible approach toward the three strikes law so we wonít have people convicted of stealing a piece of pizza for their third strike being sentenced to 25 years to life.†
More recently, Mr. Cooley revised his policy for those accused of felonies who decide to flee the country.† There is an important distinction between the manner in which he is handling these cases versus the approach of his predecessor Gil Garcetti.†
When an individual is charged with a felony that can lead to the death penalty some take refuge in a country that does not believe in the death penalty and will not extradite people to countries or states that impose the death penalty. The individual knows he will never be returned to California and will generally, end up with a much lighter sentence if sent to trial in the country to which he fled.
With the Cooley administration, the policy they are promulgating would allow the District Attorneyís office to inform the country harboring the fugitive that the death penalty will not be sought in the particular case in question.† This would clear the way for extradition from anti-death penalty countries.†
This is not to say that I donít understand where Gil Garcetti was coming from.† His view is that if people charged with serious felonies learn that by seeking haven in a non-death penalty country, they will then avoid it if they are sent back here, it will encourage more people to flee.† The theory is that we donít want people suspected of felonies going to Canada and Mexico on a regular basis knowing that those countries will not be inclined to extradite due to their anti-death penalty views.†
I feel, however, that the Cooley approach is a far more practical one. This will lead to a far greater number of extraditions and will lead to an increased number of prosecutions and an increased number of convictions and the individuals will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.† There are those who would argue that life without parole is a harsher sentence than the death penalty.† I donít necessarily subscribe to that line of thinking, however, obviously it is a very harsh punishment and if someone wants to flee knowing that life without parole is what they will be facing if they are extradited, thatís OK with me.
Along with Mexico and Canada, the European Union tends not to extradite to states or countries where capital punishment is an option.†
Mexican authorities are happy about this policy change because they have indicated that it will now be easier for them to extradite fleeing suspects back to Los Angeles.
I think the key here is that this is a reasonable compromise with other countries for the greater good.† On the one hand you are giving up the opportunity to impose the death penalty; on the other hand, weíre going to get an increased number of suspects returned and they will then have their jury trial in the state of California, facing staring at prison bars for the rest of their life.†
From a policy standpoint,† a trial in California with the potential for severe punishment is better than letting the individual live the rest of his or her life abroad in relative freedom.† Keep it up Mr. Cooley, I think youíre off to a good start.