New Study Finds Enduring Failures of Capital Punishment System in California.

Colleges of Law Adjunct Prof. Robert Sanger examines state death penalty reforms since 2002.

SANTA BARBARA and VENTURA, Calif. – As Proposition 62 offers California voters the option to repeal the death penalty this November, a special law report argues that California’s approach to capital punishment system has not improved since 2002, the same year that the Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment resulted in a death penalty moratorium and delivered a framework for statewide reform. Authored by Professor Robert Sanger, faculty at The Santa Barbara & Ventura Colleges of Law (COL), the comparative study examines California in light of the Illinois reforms.

In 2002, the Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment issued a report recommending 85 reforms for the state of Illinois intended to minimize the possibility that an innocent person could be executed. A subject-matter expert, Sanger concluded that California needed more than 92 percent of the same reforms. The initial study also showed that California’s system had additional weaknesses beyond Illinois that could potentially lead to wrongful execution.

Fourteen years later, Sanger has found that California has not met any additional reform recommendations. Sanger’s most pointed conclusions are:

  • California has not met 19 recommendations for police and pretrial investigations designed to minimize false confessions, false identifications, misrecollected or misinterpreted events, and contamination of testimony.
  • California follows only one of the seven recommendations for DNA and forensic testing.
  • The Illinois Commission recommended that there be five circumstances that would make a murder case eligible for the death penalty. In contrast, California has 25 special circumstances, which breaks down further into more than 36 special circumstances. There have been no changes or limitations to this number in the last 14 years.

Illinois, meanwhile, enacted significant reforms but still repealed the death penalty. As the November election draws near, Sanger argues that his findings should give California voters pause on the issue of capital punishment and consider its repeal under Proposition 62.

“Based on my empirical research for this article, the death penalty in California is expensive, broken, known to jeopardize the innocent and has not been fixed. I’m encouraged that voters will have the opportunity to have their voices heard this fall. I encourage all to review the facts toward making an informed decision,” said Sanger.

In practice for over 40 years, Sanger is an experienced trial attorney and Certified Criminal Law Specialist. Sanger is a past president of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (CACJ) and is a member of the ABA Criminal Justice Sentencing Committee and the NACDL Death Penalty Committee. He is a senior partner in the firm of Sanger, Swysen, & Dunkle.

“Fourteen Years Later: The Capital Punishment System in California” is available for public download at

Professor Sanger will be participating in a debate on Proposition 62 hosted by COL. The event will be held on October 26, 2016, from 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. at the Santa Barbara Campus. Sanger’s opponent will be Richard Simon, Senior Deputy District Attorney for Ventura County. Click here for more information.

About The Santa Barbara & Ventura Colleges of Law

Established in 1969, The Santa Barbara & Ventura Colleges of Law (COL) was founded to expand opportunities and broaden access to legal education.  COL is dedicated to a student-centered approach that affords students of diverse backgrounds the opportunity to pursue careers in law or legal-related fields. The Colleges’ faculty advances a real-world perspective and practicality on the application of law and includes practicing attorneys, judges, public servants, and leaders in business and non-profit organizations.  An accredited nonprofit institution, COL offers a Juris Doctor (J.D.) and a Master of Legal Studies (M.L.S.) program.  COL is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) and the Juris Doctor program is accredited by the Committee of Bar Examiners (CBE) of the State Bar of California.  For more information, visit

The Santa Barbara & Ventura Colleges of Law is an affiliate of TCS Education System, a nonprofit system of colleges advancing student success and community impact.