Today's Silicon Valley Mercury News carries the editorial, "California should end barbaric, costly death penalty."
California's death penalty is archaic, unfairly applied and fiscally insane. More than 135 nations have abolished capital punishment, and the list of those that still use it is a who's who of human rights abusers: Iraq, Iran, Libya, China, North Korea and Sudan, for starters. Oh, and us.
This fall voters should make California the 18th state to repeal the death penalty in favor of life in prison with no chance of parole. Vote yes on Proposition 34.
Never mind moral arguments; the death penalty simply doesn't work. Since it was reinstated in 1978, California has spent $4 billion on just 13 executions. We are no safer.
Passing Proposition 34 will leave $180 million more per year in the general fund, where it can be spent on preventing crime rather than retribution: improving schools, for example; it's not straight-A students who pack jails. Of that amount, $30 million would go to law enforcement to help solve more homicide and rape cases. That's surefire crime prevention, locking up the bad guys.
The proposition also requires inmates to work in prison and turn over earnings to crime victims.
Death penalty supporters argue that the lengthy appeals that run up public costs should be cut short or ended. That works in barbaric nations that immediately execute prisoners. But it doesn't deal with a major reason other states have abolished the death penalty: increasing evidence that innocent people have been executed.
Voters need to end it Nov. 6.
"The truth about the death penalty," is Tracie Olson's OpEd in the Woodland Daily Democrat. Olson is the Yolo County Public Defender.
Contrary to the Wednesday guest opinion by District Attorney Jeff Reisig in The Daily Democrat, there are numerous, overwhelming reasons to oppose the death penalty, and none involve dishonoring victims.
District Attorney Jeff Reisig laments the "endless delays in the criminal justice system, frivolous appeals, and a mountain of misinformation" caused by the "ACLU and its agents." However, he conveniently ignores the fact that the National Registry of Exonerations has recorded over 920 exonerations across the United States since 1989, more than 100 of which had been sentenced to death.
Kirk Bloodsworth was the first American to be freed from death row as a result of exoneration by DNA fingerprinting. Ray Krone is the 100th American to have been sentenced to death and later exonerated. For those exonerated of murder, the biggest problem is perjury, usually by a witness who claimed to have witnessed the crime or participated in it. False confessions, witness misidentification, junk science, and prosecutorial and police misconduct are other significant reasons that result in incarcerating the innocent.
In 2011, U.S. 9th Circuit Judge Arthur L. Alarcon (who does not oppose the death penalty) and Loyola Law School professor Paula Mitchell (who favors abolition) released a study which concluded that the death penalty has cost Californians over $4 billion since 1978. They found that capital cases often cost 10 to 20 times more to litigate than murder trials that don't involve the death penalty. They found that the cost of automatic appeals and state habeas corpus petitions in capital cases in California was $58 million in 2010 alone. Importantly, this figure excludes the cost of providing counsel in federal proceedings, where nearly every condemned inmate whose state claims have been denied seeks relief (and where federal courts grant relief -- in the form of a new guilt trial or a new penalty trial -- in roughly 70 percent of the cases they reviewed). Additionally, they found that Californians spent an estimated additional $70 million in 2010 just to house condemned inmates.
Alarcon and Mitchell's findings mirrored those made in 2008 by the California Commission of Fair Administration of Justice -- a 22-member commission created by the state Senate. Likewise, the Legislative Analyst's Office 2011 report concluded that eliminating the death penalty would result in net savings to taxpayers due to savings in trial costs, appellate litigation costs, and correctional costs. Lastly, it is imperative to point out that Reisig's assertion that a "study" by the Rand Corporation in 2008 "does not even support the death penalty opponents' claims [that eliminating the death penalty saves money]" is bogus. No such "study" exists. The study was contemplated but never executed due to time and budget constraints.
San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra J. Saunders writes, "As Sacramento dawdles, DAs revolt."
California's death penalty has been in limbo since 2006 when a federal judge stayed the execution of Michael Morales, who was sentenced to death for the brutal 1981 murder and rape of 17-year-old Terri Winchell. The judge was fearful lest the state's three-drug lethal injection protocol cause Morales undue pain. Since then, a number of states have switched to a one-drug protocol. Why hasn't California? The answer could be that Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris don't want the death penalty to work.
Brown and Harris are personally opposed to the death penalty but, when they campaigned for office in 2010, both pledged to carry out the law. They're not exactly knocking themselves out to do so.
In 2009, Ohio adopted a one-drug protocol for executions. By administering a lethal dose of barbiturates, Ohio made it harder for frivolous appeals to keep the state from enforcing its laws. Several states followed suit, including Washington. Washington is important because the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco refused to stay a single-drug execution in Washington state in 2010.
California officials still are sticking with a three-drug protocol mired in legal challenges. Sacramento has been so ineffective that Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley asked a Superior Court judge to make the state order the single-drug executions of multiple murderers Tiequon Cox and Mitchell Sims.
Earlier coverage of California Prop. 34, the SAFE California ballot initiative, begins at the link.