While many important issues will be decided this Tuesday, one stands out for its national and historic importance: In California, the future of the death penalty hangs in the balance with Proposition 34. Also known as the SAFE California Act of 2012, Prop 34 will replace the death penalty with life in prison with no possibility of parole.
The fact is, California's death penalty is all cost and no benefit. The latest Field Poll, out Friday, shows that more voters than ever before support replacing the death penalty, and that Prop 34 is leading in the polls. The Field Poll says 45 percent of likely California voters support Prop 34, while 38 percent oppose. Of those who have already voted, a full 48 percent said they voted yes, while 42 percent voted no.
A big reason for the spectacular surge in support is people's awareness that the Golden State is flat broke. Voters now understand that the death penalty is far more expensive than life in prison with no chance of parole. They realize that California has sunk billions of dollars into a broken system -- while most death row inmates die of old age.
Also at HuffPost, Exoneree Franky Carrillo writes, "Calif. Leads the Nation in Wrongful Convictions -- I Would Know."
A new project at UC Berkeley Law School, the California Wrongful Convictions Project, has been studying the problem of innocent people in California convicted of crimes they did not commit, and they've just released their findings [PDF]. I wish I could say I was shocked by what they found.
California currently leads the nation in wrongful convictions. With more than 200 innocent people locked up for crimes they did not commit since 1989, and 123 exonerations, California exceeds every other state in the U.S. when it comes to this dubious distinction.
This came as no surprise to me. I was one of those 200 innocent people.
I was locked up more than 20 years ago for a murder I did not commit and last year, I was finally able to prove my innocence and was released. Including my 20 years, the total amount of time spent in prison by innocent people in California is 1,311 years.
Ever since I was released, I've been traveling around the state urging voters to vote YES on Proposition 34 to replace the death penalty with life in prison because of the risk of executing an innocent person. I know first-hand that innocent men and women can be convicted of terrible things they had nothing to do with, and that the death penalty always will run the awful risk of executing one of those people. It could have been me.
"A Challenge to Dennis Prager, Death-Penalty Supporter," is by Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic.
Over at Ricochet, Dennis Prager has an item mocking the California ballot initiative that could end the death penalty in the Golden State, in part because doing so would save a lot of taxpayer money. Says Prager (emphasis added):What I wonder is if Prager fully understands the implications of his argument, which I'd urge him to carry to its logical conclusion. If justice should never be a matter of money, will he start using his radio show and columns to insist that the people who perform autopsies be adequately trained and funded? Will he urge legislators to approve funds to remedy the atrocious state of forensic investigation in America, and fund rivalrous redundancy, so that private labs would check up on the work of state run forensic teams that often make mistakes? Will he insist on compensating the victims of guys like Steven Hayne -- or at least speak out against state laws that leave some wrongly jailed victims of prosecutorial misconduct without any state compensation at all upon their release? Will he speak up against asset forfeiture laws that give law enforcement agencies across the country a financial incentive to victimize innocent people?
There's a ballot measure (in California they're called propositions) to eliminate the death penalty. The idea behind this measure, Proposition 34, is that death penalty is too expensive and therefore should be abolished. The idea is so morally vapid that it's hard to believe people would take it seriously. Justice should never be a matter of money. Do supporters of Prop. 34 really mean to suggest that, yes, heinous murderers should be executed, but because it's costly we should allow every murderer to live?
After all, justice should never be a matter of money, right? And yet all over America, there are countless areas where additional funding could prevent innocents from being subject to unjust state action. But they are never funded, and more often than not conservatives are the ones standing in the way.
Earlier coverage of Prop. 34, the SAFE California ballot initiative, begins at the link.