Today's Sacramento Bee editorial, "End the death penalty: Yes on Proposition 34," is the final one of this week's series of editorials in support of Prop. 34. The Sunday SacBee will feature reader feedback.
On the November ballot, California voters will be presented with Proposition 34, which would end the state's death penalty and instead require mandatory life sentences, without parole, for condemned inmates.
Voters should approve Prop. 34, for all the reasons we've laid out in editorials this week.
The death penalty in California is a farce. It isn't being carried out with any consistency or equal application across counties. Proponents have spent decades trying to speed up executions, including creating a Habeas Corpus Resource Center in 1998.
Even so, California has executed only 13 condemned murderers since 1992, when executions resumed after the reinstatement of the death penalty. During that time, 84 inmates have died on death row, leaving 729 awaiting an execution that, for most them, is sure to never come.
Even if California could somehow speed up executions, there is no evidence nationally that capital punishment serves as a deterrent to violent crime. There is evidence, however, that judges and juries have occasionally convicted the wrong person of a capital crime, resulting in an innocent person being sent to death row and even executed.
If California were to implement life sentences with no possibility of parole, high-profile murderers such as Ramirez and Rhoades would no longer get the attention they crave and often receive on San Quentin's death row.
They'd live out their lonely days behind bars and die in relative obscurity. That would be a just end, and one that we all could count on.
The Tribune of San Luis Obispo publishes Phil Dirkx's column, "Death penalty does no good for California."
Zeke carried four pairs of new cowboy boots. His buddy, Zack, said, “Zeke you must stop buying boots. You keep buying new ones, but you haven’t worn boots for 20 years. They hurt your bunions.”
“I know,” said Zeke, “but buying them makes me feel good.”
“You better stop feeling,” said Zack, “and start thinking.”
Zack would probably also say we Californians better stop feeling good about capital punishment and start thinking about voting “yes” on Prop. 34.
If we pass Prop. 34 in November, it will abolish capital punishment and replace it with life without parole. It will require convicted murderers to work in prison to pay victim-restitution fines. And it will provide four years of grants to police and prosecutors to hasten the solving of murders and rapes.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates ending capital punishment will save $100 million per year at first, and $130 million per year in later years.
Most Californians used to feel good about capital punishment. In 1978, they voted to reinstate the death penalty. Since then, about 900 people have been sentenced to death in California.
Many people say capital punishment provides “justice,” by which some people mean vengeance. No legitimate government should ever kill a person in cold blood. Calling it “capital punishment” doesn’t justify it.
Let me catch up with California commentary and news from yesterday. The latest Los Angeles Times Capitol Journal Column is, "It's time to dump California's death penalty by passing Prop. 34," by George Skelton.Officially, Proposition 34 is about whether to abolish the death penalty and replace it with life in prison. But that's not the pertinent question.
The death penalty already effectively has been abolished in California. Capital punishment exists only in fantasyland. Condemned killers essentially have been living out their natural lives behind bars.
The relevant question is whether we should keep pouring tax money down a rat hole, feeding a broken system that shows no signs of ever being fixed.
California has executed only 13 people in the last 34 years, and none since 2006. A study last year found that the state had spent $4 billion to administer capital punishment since 1978. That's about $308 million per execution.
So for me, Prop. 34 is not about the merits of capital punishment. It's about whether we should keep paying extravagantly for something we're not getting.
The November ballot measure is relatively simple compared to most other initiatives. It would repeal California's death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
It would apply retroactively to the 729 convicted killers already sentenced to death. They and future murderers would be tossed into the general prison population and treated like other convicts — double-bunked and required to work.
There are also news reports. "Prop. 34: High Price of Death," by Nick Welsh in the Santa Barbara Independent.
Santa Barbara District Attorney Joyce Dudley, took a broader view in regarding Prop. 34’s political resonance. “We have an anti–death penalty governor and an anti–death penalty attorney. The Innocence Project is finding cases where people have been improperly convicted,” she said. “At a time when our prisons are overflowing, state and local governments are seriously strapped for cash.”
More than anything, cost is driving the push behind Prop. 34. “It’s not the morality of the thing; it’s not that innocent people may be getting executed,” said Gerald Uelmen, a law professor at Santa Clara University and one of the experts hitting the campaign trail on behalf of Prop. 34. “People are reacting to how much money we’re spending.” According to Uelmen, who headed the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice (created by former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger), it costs $100,000 a year to lock someone up in Death Row, where inmates are sequestered in single cells and kept under constant surveillance and suicide watch. By contrast, he said, it costs $38,000 a year to lock someone up in a maximum security prison.
Uelmen said his commission closely scrutinized the occupants of California’s Death Row to see if any innocent people had been wrongly convicted. No one who was factually innocent, he said, was found. But many, he said, had been sentenced to die without advice of competent — or adequate — legal counsel. “We found that the state could save $137 million a year by eliminating the death penalty,” he said. “Or we could spend $100 million more to fix it.” By “fixing it,” Uelmen said it would take California’s condemned inmates, on average, 15 years to be executed as opposed to the 30 years Uelmen said it now takes. (Fifteen years, he said, is the national average.)
Although the statewide district attorneys association is campaigning against Prop. 34, Dudley said she’s taking no position. She calls the state’s death penalty system “dysfunctional,” noting that there have been no executions since 2006 because California’s three-chemical killer cocktail protocol has been in limbo pending legal challenges. Until that changes, Dudley said, she has no interest in pursuing the death penalty.
New Times San Luis Obispo posts, "Debating death," by Matt Fountain.
Jeanne Woodford recalls with a furled brow and a slight grimace the four occasions she witnessed California’s harshest penalty carried out in front of her.
As warden of California’s only prison with a death row and an operational execution chamber, Woodford saw firsthand at San Quentin State Prison what she calls the waste of both human life and of valuable resources sorely needed in the ever-strapped criminal justice system.
“After an execution, you come to realize that you didn’t do anything to improve public safety. You just didn’t,” Woodford told New Times.
Speaking before a crowd of nearly 100 people on a Saturday night at San Luis Obispo Mission de Tolosa, Woodford was campaigning in support of Proposition 34—the initiative that asks voters to repeal the death penalty in California.
“I have observed victims’ families [following an execution], and you can just tell—it just didn’t provide the answers that people had been promising them,” Woodford said. “It’s very difficult to describe, but you would leave feeling, ‘What good did we do?’ It didn’t help anyone, didn’t improve public safety, and nobody’s better off because of it.”
Think Progress highlights the latest Alarcon-Mitchell law review article in its post, "Study: Death Penalty Will Cost California Up To $7.7 Billion By 2050," by Nicole Flatow.
California’s prison system is severely overcrowded and expensive, but incarceration for those sentenced to life without parole is not the state’s most costly form of punishment. With a state initiative to eliminate capital punishment on the ballot this November, an updated study by a law professor and a federal appeals court judge projects that California’s death penalty system would cost taxpayers between $5.4 and $7.7 billion more between now and 2050 than if those in death row were sentenced to life in prison without parole.
During that time, the study projects, about 740 more inmates will be added to death row and 14 executions will be carried out, while more than 500 of those prisoners will die from suicide or natural causes before the state executes them. Compared to life without parole — the state’s second-most-severe punishment — the costs of the death penalty system include higher incarceration costs due to security and other requirements, and astronomical litigation costs — both for individual appeals and for lethal injection litigation.
Ninth Circuit Senior Judge Arthur L. Alarcón and Loyola Law School Los Angeles adjunct professor Paula M. Mitchell explain in the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review.
Judge Arthur L. Alarcón and law professor Paula M. Mitchell's latest Loyola Los Angeles Law Review article is, "Costs of Capital Punishment in California: Will Voters Choose Reform this November?" It's available in Adobe .pdf format at the link. You can also view the abstract.
Last year, Judge Alarcon and Mitchell wrote, "Executing the Will of the Voters: A Roadmap to Mend or End the California Legislature's Multi-Billion-Dollar Death Penalty Debacle," also for the Loyola Los Angeles Law Review. Coverage of the earlier Alarcon-Mitchell law review article is at the link.