TIME Crime

California Judge Rules Death Penalty Unconstitutional

Lethal Injection Execution
Walls Unit in Huntsville prison where lethal injections are carried out on inmates in Huntsville, Texas. Jerry Cabluck—Sygma/Corbis

Uncertainties and delays over executions violate the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, says federal judge

A federal judge ruled California’s death penalty unconstitutional Wednesday, saying uncertainties and delays over executions violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

In his 29-page decision, U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney, a Republican-appointed judge in Orange County, vacated the death sentence of Ernest Jones, who was sentenced to death in 1995 for the rape and murder of his girlfriend’s mother, while making a lengthy and detailed critique of the death penalty.

“The dysfunctional administration of California’s death penalty system has resulted, and will continue to result, in an inordinate and unpredictable period of delay preceding their actual execution,” Judge Carney wrote. “Indeed, for most, systemic delay has made their execution so unlikely that the death sentence carefully and deliberately imposed by the jury has been quietly transformed into one no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.”

Since the death penalty was reinstated in California in 1978, more than 900 people have been sentenced to death while only 13 have been executed. More than 90 have died awaiting their executions, and more than 40% have been on death row for longer than 19 years. California currently has 742 inmates on death row, the most in the U.S. according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Death penalty experts and law professors called the decision unprecedented on Wednesday. “It’s the first time I can think of since the 1970s that a judicial opinion has taken on the death penalty as a whole rather than just the individual,” says Hadar Aviram, a law professor at the University of California Hastings.

It’s unclear how binding the ruling will be outside of the Jones case. Elisabeth Semel of the University of California-Berkeley’s Death Penalty Clinic says the state is likely to appeal to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, potentially opening up a new chapter in the legal wrangling over the death penalty in California.

“Certainly, prosecutors will argue that the order does not have the effect of ‘automatically’ invalidating the death penalty in the cases of other individuals who have been sentenced to death or who are facing capital prosecution,” Semel wrote in an e-mail. “But also, certainly, there will and must be efforts to give the ruling traction on behalf of other defendants.”

The ruling may also give fresh urgency to calls from anti-death penalty advocates for a state referendum on executions, and may prompt Gov. Jerry Brown to re-evaluate how the system functions. Gil Garcetti, a former Los Angeles district attorney and a spokesperson for SAFE California, an anti-death penalty group, called the decision “historic.”

A spokesperson for the state’s attorney general’s office says it is reviewing the decision.

TIME animals

This Dog Surfing Competition is Totally Gnarly

Get ready for some ruff waves

What’s cooler than surfing? Surfing with your dog. And not just riding the same board as your pet, but pushing your pup to ride a wave on their own. That’s what the dogs in Unleashed, the largest dog surfing competition the U.S., do, and they rock at it.

Hanging 20, the dogs perch on top of the boards as the waves sweep toward the beach. When the wave collapses, the canine surfers hop off, no harm done (some are wearing adorable life jackets, just in case).

But are the dogs scared to go on the surfboards? Are their owners forcing them into unwanted roles as surf bros? Eric Felland, owner of the champion of the large dog heat, tells The Guardian that his dog “loves what he does.” Fellow owner James Wall says “it’s hard to say it’s cruel; some dogs like it some dogs don’t.” One thing’s for sure—it’s great for everyone watching.

TIME States

Proposal to Split California Into 6 States Moves Forward

But don't start throwing out your U.S. maps just yet

Supporters of a long-shot measure that would split California into six states plan to submit 1.3 million signatures to election officials on July 15. The quixotic effort, spearheaded by venture capitalist Tim Draper, needs officials to deem at least 807,615 of those signatures valid in order to qualify for the November 2016 election.

If every signature were valid, that would mean one in about every 30 Californians is ready to cleft America’s most populous state into sixths—or at least vote on the issue in two years. The borders would be established along county lines outlined in the proposal, creating the states of Jefferson, North California, Silicon Valley, Central California, West California and South California.

The deadline for qualifying for the 2014 election passed in late June, roughly four months after the California Secretary of State gave initial approval to the proposal. Draper, known for successful investments in companies such as Hotmail and Skype, told TIME about the inspiration behind his proposal in February:

The strongest argument for Six Californias is that we are not well-represented. The people down south are very concerned with things like immigration law and the people way up north are frustrated by taxation without representation. And the people in coastal California are frustrated because of water rights. And the people in Silicon Valley are frustrated because the government doesn’t keep up with technology. And in Los Angeles, their issues revolve around copyright law. Each region has its own interest, and I think California is ungovernable because they can’t balance all those interests. I’m looking at Six Californias as a way of giving California a refresh and allowing those states to both cooperate and compete with each other.

Initial vote counts should be done by September; if a random sample of signatures checks out, county officials will likely move on to verifying each signature. But even if the signatures are there and California residents vote in favor of the proposal come 2016, Congress and the President would have to pass a law approving the separation. And given the amount of upheaval the creation of six new states would cause, that isn’t likely.

Readers can find the full Q&A, where Draper discusses the fact that the division would create both the nation’s richest and poorest states per capita, here.

TIME States

California May Vote on ‘Six States’ Plan in 2016

Campaign claims to have enough signatures to get proposal on the state ballot

An initiative to break California into six separate states has proven to be more than just fodder for late night talk show jokes, after receiving enough signatures to be placed on the November 2016 ballot, the campaign announced Monday.

Venture capitalist Tim Draper is the initiative’s only backer thus far, having contributed $4.9 million of his own money to propel the plan forward. But that funding has apparently gained results. Campaign spokesperson Roger Salazar said Monday that they had accumulated more than the 808,000 signatures necessary to gain placement on the ballot, Reuters reports, and it will be filed Tuesday.

“It’s important because it will help us create a more responsive, more innovative and more local government, and that ultimately will end up being better for all of Californians,” Salazar told Reuters. “The idea … is to create six states with responsive local governments – states that are more representative and accountable to their constituents.

If the plan is carried out, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office reports that Draper’s plan would create America’s richest state (Silicon Valley, made up of Monterey, Santa Crus, and most of the Bay Area), and America’s poorest state (Central California, which includes Fresno, Stockton, and Bakersfield).

The other four states would include Jefferson (Humboldt and Medocino counties), North California (Sonoma, Napa, and the Sierra Nevada Area), West California (Santa Barbara and Los Angeles), and South California (San Diego and the Inland Empire.)

Democratic strategist Steve Maviglio strongly opposed the plan.

“This is a colossal and divisive waste of time, energy and money that will hurt the California brand… [and its] ability to attract business and jobs,” Maviglio told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s unfortunate that Mr. Draper is putting his millions into this effort to split up our state rather than help us face our challenges.”

Further information, including the number of signatures received, will be announced in a news conference Tuesday.

 

TIME Crime

A Guy Named Alpacino Has Been Accused of Murder

Al Pacino
American actor Al Pacino, circa 1972. Roy Jones—Getty Images

Plus, he has previous convictions for drug dealing

Sometimes life really does imitate art. At least, that seems to be the case for 29-year-old Alpacino McDaniels.

Yup, this guy is really named Alpacino, and he’s really been charged with murdering three people, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. He also faced additional charges for gun possession, and he has previous convictions for drug dealing and evading police.

Since he’s named after Al Pacino, you’d think he was trying to emulate the iconic Tony Montana from Scarface. But, twist! According to the San Jose Mercury News, McDaniels’ street name is actually Capone — so in that case, he should probably change his legal name to Robertdeniro McDaniels.

(h/t UPROXX)

MONEY Travel

3 Ways to Get the National Park Experience—Without the Crowds

Visit these state parks to trim your vacation bills and avoid the summer swarms.

Our national parks are awesome. Too bad you’re not the only one who knows it! This year, try one of America’s more than 7,000 state parks instead.

To start planning your state park getaway, download the free Pocket Ranger app, says Eugene Swalberg of Utah State Parks. You’ll find maps and info for every state park, as well as trail, activity, and campground suggestions. If you’re going on a prime weekend—like, say, the 4th of July—be sure to make reservations. Some parks accept bookings as far as 11 months out, says Joe Elton of AmericasStateParks.org. It’s also worth seeking out any pass options available for locals. In ­Idaho, for example, a resident pass is $10 a year and includes some camping fees.

Still need some inspiration? Here are three stunning state parks that give the big names a run for their money.

Adirondack State Park, New York

201407_FTR_TRAVEL_3
Matt Champlin—Getty Images


Cost:
Free Entry

At roughly the size of Vermont, this patchwork of state and private lands makes up the country’s largest state park. Another plus: It’s an easy drive or Amtrak ride from most of the Northeast. Rather than heading to pricier Lake Placid, make Saranac Lake your jumping-off point; get a lake-view room at Gauthier’s ­Saranac Lake Inn starting at $99. Avoid the summer hiking crowd of the High Peaks region by going east to Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest, says InsidetheMap.com outdoor guide Elizabeth Lee.

Crystal Cove State Park, California

201407_FTR_TRAVEL_2
Calamy—Alamy

Cost: Free Entry; $15 parking

The highlight of this park, located an hour south of Los Angeles, is its 3.2 miles of uninterrupted Pacific coastline. Spend a morning spotting sea lions and bottlenose dolphins, then refuel with some ahi tacos at the Beachcomber café, suggests Janelle Naess of Laguna Beach Walks. Or rent snorkeling gear from nearby Laguna Sea Sports ($20 a day) and try to spot the fluorescent orange garibaldi fish. Avoid the expensive hotels near the park and save up to 84% at the on-site Crystal Cove Beach Cottages (from $42 for two people).

Curt Gowdy State Park, Wyoming

201407_FTR_TRAVEL_1
Rock outcrops, Curt Gowdy State Park, Wyoming Tim Fitzharris—Getty Images

Cost: $6 entry ($4 for state residents)

This 5.3-square-mile park 30 minutes from Cheyenne is a mountain biker favorite, with more than 35 miles of trails. To explore on two wheels, Wyoming State Parks’ Todd Thibodeau suggests Stone Temple Trail, which winds through lodgepole pines and aspen groves. Rather keep your feet on the ground? Hike the alpine and canyon terrain of Waterfall Trail. Choose from 12 campgrounds (permits from $11) or head east to Terry Bison Ranch, where four-person cabins are $90. Cheyenne has the closest airport, but you could save more than 40% by flying into Denver, two hours south.

 

 

TIME Immigration

A California City Revolts Against Undocumented Immigrants

What one California city's struggle means for the rest of the country

Being the mayor of Murrieta, Calif., is only a part-time job, and Alan Long, who’s held the post since January, earns his living as a battalion chief in a nearby fire department. There, he’s in charge of emergency management and preparedness, skills that have been particularly handy in recent days.

Now Long and Murrieta, a midsize city about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, have become a new flash point in the fierce and often contentious debate over how to handle a recent crush of children and families streaming across the Mexican border. In what’s been called a humanitarian crisis, from October 2013 to June 2014, more than 50,000 unaccompanied minors were caught illegally crossing the border, according to federal officials. More than half of the children came from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, seeking refuge from violence in their home countries and lured by rumors that it’s easy to obtain legal status in the U.S.

The tidal wave has prompted border-patrol offices in Texas, overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of children and families, to transfer undocumented immigrants to processing facilities in other states. The move has raised concerns that a broken federal immigration system is burdening local communities far beyond the border.

This concern came to a head Tuesday, when protesters in Murrieta confronted several buses transporting 140 immigrants to a border-patrol center there. The passengers — presumably all undocumented and said to be children and parents — had been apprehended in Texas and flown to San Diego when they boarded buses bound for Murrieta. But facing a roadside crowd stationed blocks from the processing center and carrying signs that said, “Stop Illegal Immigration,” “Return to Sender” and “No New Illegals,” the border-patrol agents on board turned back and went to a center in San Diego instead.

“I wasn’t surprised the protest happened,” Long told TIME in an interview. Rumors of the immigrants’ arrival had been swirling in the city for weeks. On Monday, Long held a news conference in which he confirmed that 140 immigrants would land in San Diego at 11 a.m. on Tuesday and travel by bus to Murrieta that afternoon. Long said he never intended to incite a protest and that local residents most concerned about the immigrant transfer already knew about it, even without his announcement. He said he was just trying bat down false information being passed around the community — including that the immigrants on the way were criminals or carrying diseases — and present the hard facts.

“I’m getting credit for organizing this protest, but I’ve never organized or told people to protest,” Long said.

Rather, he said he hoped to encourage Murrieta residents to contact elected officials in Washington and urge them to repair the immigration system and beef up border enforcement. Calls from Murrieta to members of Congress may have taken place at Long’s urging, but the protest itself has garnered far more attention and been held up by anti-illegal-immigration activists as proof that locals can stand their ground against the intrusion of undocumented immigrants and by immigrant-rights activists as an example of xenophobia and compassionless behavior at its worst.

Long, who was born in the U.S. but is ethnically half-Mexican, said Murrieta residents are concerned that a large influx of undocumented immigrants will strain local resources. Judging by comments made by some residents at Long’s Monday news conference, they’re also concerned that undocumented immigrants will be released into their community en masse. “They’re going to be dumped in minivans throughout the county,” one woman present said.

Immigrants like those on the bus to Murrieta typically face three possible scenarios, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). If they are a threat to public safety or national security, they could be detained. Those who are not eligible to attain legal status could be deported, although that process often takes time. If they are not a threat, pass background checks and health screenings and have a claim that they could obtain legal status, they could be released into a community in California or elsewhere and monitored while their application is reviewed. Monitoring, according to ICE, can include electronic bracelets, in-person required check-ins, voice-recognition telephonic software or in-home visits by immigration officials. Immigrants who believe they may be able to attain legal status risk that if they do not comply with monitoring requirements.

It’s not clear whether the border patrol will try to transport another group of immigrants to Murrieta. But already, Long said, more rumors in the community are swirling.

“We are a very compassionate community,” Long said. “We understand these immigrants are coming from a less desirable location. It’s not about them. We’re opposing the federal system that’s broken.”

TIME technology

California Lifts Ban on Bitcoin

California Legalizes Bitcoin
California Gov. Jerry Brown looks on during a news conference at Google headquarters on September 25, 2012. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Technically, all transactions using digital or alternative currencies had been illegal in California until Monday

California lawmakers approved a bill Monday that lifted an outdated ban on the use of bitcoin and other alternative currencies, as more states seek to clarify and revise virtual currency laws.

AB 129, which Governor Jerry Brown had signed on Saturday, will ensure that “various forms of alternative currency such as digital currency” will be legal in purchasing goods and transmitting payments, according to the bill’s text. The bill reflects the growing use of digital currencies, revising Section 107 of California’s Corporations Code that prohibits use of “anything but the lawful money of the United States.”

“In an era of evolving payment methods, from Amazon Coins to Starbucks Stars, it is impractical to ignore the growing use of cash alternatives,” Democratic Assemblyman and the bill’s author Roger Dickinson said in a recent statement.

Dickinson noted that points and rewards programs function as digital currencies, and thus would not have been legal without the passage of AB 129, which legalizes these “community currencies,” that is, alternative payment systems between businesses and customers.

Other states have similarly sought to clarify their bitcoin laws. In March, the Texas Department of Banking stated that bitcoin transmissions, while permitted, are not technically “currency” transmissions. That month, the New York State Department of Financial Services announced the state will accept proposals for a virtual currency regulation system.

While bitcoin use is now legal in California, it is not technically legal tender, a status reserved for and defined federally as “United States coins and currency” under the Coinage Act of 1965. The IRS clarified in March that bitcoin functions more like property than currency, which means that taxes applying to property transactions also apply to bitcoin transactions.

Elsewhere in the world, only very few countries, notably Brazil and China, have specific regulations of bitcoin use.

TIME Bizarre

World’s Worst Nanny Finally Agrees to Leave Family’s Home

The nanny from hell finally gave in, but only after being deprived of cable TV and access to the family's refrigerator

When a California family fired their live-in nanny three weeks ago for spending all day locked in her room (instead of, for example, watching the kids), the family of five presumably thought they had seen the last of their 64-year-old “nightmare nanny.”

Unfortunately, the Bracamontes’ nightmare had only just begun. Rather than packing up her things and finding work elsewhere, as just about any other nanny would, Diane Stretton adamantly refused to leave the family’s home.

According to People magazine, Marcella Bracamonte initially appreciated the extra care for her children, ages 11, 4 and 16 months. However, as the weeks went on, she found that Stretton “didn’t want to help out.” Eventually Stretton became so uncooperative that Marcella and her husband Ralph decided to fire the woman, not realizing that Stretton would be legally permitted to remain in their San Bernardino County home because of the terms of her employment.

In fact, a law requires the family to accommodate Stretton until she either decides to leave or is legally evicted, and if the Bracamontes try to force her out in the meantime, they could be stuck with a $1,000 fine for disturbing their “tenant.”

Luckily for the family, Stretton has relented and informed them that she will leave by July 4 (Independence Day indeed). But the Bracamontes remain understandably skeptical, fearing that their former nanny might lock them out of their own home while they are away for the national holiday.

TIME legal

California Town that Banned Pinball 80 Years Ago Will Finally Legalize It

Three year old Xandro from Eindhoven, Th
AFP / Getty Images

The ban hadn't been enforced in decades, but it's still on the books.

And here you thought games like Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto had it rough: 80 years ago, pinball — yes, pinball — was a seedy, controversial business. So controversial that thousands of U.S. cities passed laws making pinball machines illegal, including Oakland, California, where you might be surprised to find the game remains a criminal matter on the books to this day.

That’s about to change, says the San Francisco Chronicle, which writes that Oakland is set to formally un-ban pinball at last, though it’ll be seen as a symbolic move: pinball machines are alive and well across the city, notes the Chronicle, and the ban hasn’t been enforced for decades.

Pinball machines (sans flippers — a later invention) were manufactured in the 1930s, installed in bars and called “pay-outs,” because that’s what they did, delivering cash to lucky players a bit like someone hitting the jackpot after pulling the handle on a slot machine. That’s all you did at the time: pull the plunger and cross your fingers. If you won, you’d collect your winnings from whomever ran the establishment. And that slot machine-like angle was enough to worry politicians and get pinball banned across the country.

“Yes, there was a certain amount of skill involved, but basically the law looked at it as a gambling device,” Eddie Adlum, publisher of RePlay Magazine, told Steven Kent in Kent’s The Ultimate History of Video Games. “Pay-outs started out legally in many states and eventually ended up being operated mostly illegally in places where the police would look the other way, such as New Orleans. They were nickel games, by the way. They paid off in nickels. So it was a little gamble, but nevertheless it was gambling.”

Oakland’s city council will meet this week to reverse the law as part of an overall reexamination of gambling in the city, though that reversal will include a new ban on slot-machine-like Internet sweepstakes cafes, which — like those early versions of pinball — are essentially games of chance.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser