Prop 34: “Yes” Means We’ll Never Execute An Innocent Person

by on September 5, 2012 · 10 comments

in Government, Politics, Voter Guide 2012

By Carolyn Zellander

This November, Californians will their first opportunity in more than 30 years to abolish the death penalty. Last April, Proposition 34, also known as the Savings, Accountability, and Full Enforcement for California Act (SAFE California), qualified for the November Ballot. If approved by voters, the new law will convert sentences of death row inmates to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The death penalty debate has been argued from several different perspectives:

Morality

“…Death sentences are imposed in a criminal justice system that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty, than if you’re poor and innocent. The legacy of racial apartheid, racial bias, and ethnic discrimination is unavoidably evident in the administration of Capital punishment in America.” –  Bryan Stevenson JD, Professor Of Law at New York University

Constitutionality

Many opponents of the death penalty argue that it is cruel and unusual punishment, thus prohibited by the Constitution.

 Deterrence

“The death penalty has no deterrent effect. Claims that each execution deters a certain number of murders have been thoroughly discredited by social science research.” — American Civil Liberties Union 

Irrevocable Mistakes

It is better that many guilty go free than one innocent suffer a death punishment.

Retribution

“Retribution is just another word for revenge, and the desire for revenge is one of the lowest human emotions – perhaps sometimes understandable, but not really a rational response to a critical situation.

To kill the person who has killed someone close to you is simply to continue the cycle of violence which ultimately destroys the avenger as well as the offender. That this execution somehow give ‘closure’ to a tragedy is a myth. Expressing one’s violence simply reinforces the desire to express it.

Just as expressing anger simply makes us more angry. It does not drain away. It contaminates the otherwise good will which any human being needs to progress in love and understanding.” -

– Raymond A, Schroth, SJ Jesuit Priest and Community Professors of the Humanities, St. Peter’s College

Cost of Death vs. Life in Prison

Many people are surprised to learn that the death penalty is far more expensive than life without parole. Death row inmates live in special housing (individual cells), and have special lawyers, exercise and visitor privileges and tax-payer funded appeals that last for decades.

California reinstated the death penalty in 1978 and has spent $4 billion to execute only 13 of the 125 inmates condemned to death; 60 inmates died from natural causes.

According to an impartial study, Proposition 34 would save $1 billion in five years without releasing a single prisoner – funds that could be invested in our kids schools, services for elderly and disabled, and crime-solving technology like DNA analysis to keep our communities safe.*

A shocking 46% of murders and 56% of reported rapes go unsolved in California each year. While we waste $130 billion dollars every year on the death penalty, death row inmates sit in private cells doing nothing.*

We need to use our scarce law enforcement resources to bring more killers to justice and to protect our families. Prop 34 sets aside $100 million to solve more murder and rape cases, from the hundreds of millions saved from replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole. Instead of wasting millions of dollars on a system that’s broken beyond repair, let’s use our limited taxpayer funds to protect our families and our kids’ schools.

California is ready to replace the death penalty. The lead campaigner for the death penalty in 1978(Ron Briggs), the author of California’s death penalty law(Don Heller), and a former warden at San Quentin State Prison(Jeanne Woodford), all support Proposition 34. Vote YES on Proposition 34

*From “Executing the Will of The Voters” by Judge Arthur Alarcon and Loyola Law Professor Paula Mitchell, Loyola Law Review, 2011: The California Legislative Analyst for the official voter guide estimates the savings will be $130 million dollars per year.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Matthew Anderson September 5, 2012 at 4:13 pm

This could not have been stated better I believe. We should closely examine any society that endorses the wanton taking of life for any reason.

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avatar Chris Bernstien September 6, 2012 at 1:45 am

The arguments in support of the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and erroneous. Proposition 34 is being funded primarily by a wealthy company out of Chicago, the ACLU, and similarly-oriented trust funds. It includes provisions that would only make our prisons less safe for both other prisoners and prison officials and significantly increase the costs to taxpayers due to life-time medical costs, the increased security required to coerce former death-row inmates to work, etc. The amount “saved” in order to help fund law enforcement is negligible and only for a short period of time. Bottom line, the “SAFE” Act is an attempt by those who are responsible for the high costs and lack of executions to now persuade voters to abandon it on those grounds. Obviously, these arguments would disappear if the death penalty was carried forth in accordance with the law. Get the facts at and supporting evidence at http://cadeathpenalty.webs.com and http://waiting4justice.org/.

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avatar Dudley Sharp September 6, 2012 at 4:28 am

MORALITY

1) Saint (& Pope) Pius V: “The just use of (executions), far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this (Fifth) Commandment which prohibits murder.” “The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent” (1566).

2) Pope Pius XII; “When it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live.” 9/14/52.

3) John Murray: “Nothing shows the moral bankruptcy of a people or of a generation more than disregard for the sanctity of human life.”

“… it is this same atrophy of moral fiber that appears in the plea for the abolition of the death penalty.”

“It is the sanctity of life that validates the death penalty for the crime of murder. It is the sense of this sanctity that constrains the demand for the infliction of this penalty. The deeper our regard for life the firmer will be our hold upon the penal sanction which the violation of that sanctity merit.” (Page 122 of Principles of Conduct).

4) Immanuel Kant: “If an offender has committed murder, he must die. In this case, no possible substitute can satisfy justice. For there is no parallel between death and even the most miserable life, so that there is no equality of crime and retribution unless the perpetrator is judicially put to death.”.

“A society that is not willing to demand a life of somebody who has taken somebody else’s life is simply immoral.”

5) Billy Graham: “God will not tolerate sin. He condemns it and demands payment for it. God could not remain a righteous God and compromise with sin. His holiness and His justice demand the death penalty.” ( “The Power of the Cross,” published in the Apr. 2007 issue of Decision magazine ).

6) Theodore Roosevelt: “It was really heartrending to have to see the kinfolk and friends of murderers who were condemned to death, and among the very rare occasions when anything governmental or official caused me to lose sleep were times when I had to listen to some poor mother making a plea for a criminal so wicked, so utterly brutal and depraved, that it would have been a crime on my part to remit his punishment.”.

7) Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “Again, every rogue who criminously attacks social rights becomes, by his wrong, a rebel and a traitor to his fatherland. By contravening its laws, he ceases to be one of its citizens: he even wages war against it. In such circumstances, the State and he cannot both be saved: one or the other must perish. In killing the criminal, we destroy not so much a citizen as an enemy. The trial and judgments are proofs that he has broken the Social Contract, and so is no longer a member of the State.” (The Social Contract).

8) John Locke: “A criminal who, having renounced reason… hath, by the unjust violence and slaughter he hath committed upon one, declared war against all mankind, and therefore may be destroyed as a lion or tyger, one of those wild savage beasts with whom men can have no society nor security.” And upon this is grounded the great law of Nature, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” Second Treatise of Civil Government.

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avatar Dudley Sharp September 6, 2012 at 4:31 am

CONSTITUTIONALITY

Of course the death penalty is constitutional.

Twice, the 5th Amendment authorizes execution.

(1) “ No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury . . . ” and

(2) “. . . nor shall any person . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . . ”.

The 14th amendment is, equally, clear:

” . . . nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . .”

Over 200 years of US Supreme Court(SCOTUS) decisions support those amendments and the US Constitution in authorizing and enforcing the death penalty.

Some wrongly believe that the SCOTUS decision, Furman v Georgia (1972), found the death penalty unconstitutional. It did not.

The decisions found that the “statutory enforcement”, the laws as written enforcing the death penalty, were a violation of the 8th Amendment. Laws were re-written and new death penalty statues gained SCOTUS approval, in 1976, under Gregg v Georgia, with 39 states, the federal government and the military, eventually putting new death penalty laws into effect.

SCOTUS did not find, nor can it, that the death penalty, per se, violates the 8th Amendment.

Based upon the death penalty being integral within the constitution, through the 5th and 14th amendments, I do not believe it will ever be found unconstitutional.

The US Supreme Court was established in 1789 and has had 112 Justices through 2011, only 3 of which found the death penalty unconstitutional, on extraordinarily weak grounds, as is obvious.

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avatar Vic Hadfield September 6, 2012 at 12:11 pm

You have a typo in your article, perhaps intentionally. It says that “130 billion” is wasted on the death penalty annually. Later you refer to 130 million as stated by the legislative analyst. Even the legislative analyst says that this could be off by “tens of millions of dollars”. The Alarcon-Mitchell study, which supporters of this referendum and disingenuous media outlets who also are trying to get rid of the death penalty continually refer to, has never been peer reviewed and does not even include costs saved when defendants plead guilty and avoid a special circumstances trial altogether. It wildly conflates the amount of money spent on the death penalty to appeal to gullible, uninformed voters who normally would support the death penalty. In a state with a budget of 92 Billion dollars, 100 million dollars annually is a rounding error and it is disingenuous to mislead people that the state would be able to take hundreds of millions of dollars in cash and spend it elsewhere. Most of the resources in the corrections and court systems would merely be reallocated. Also, “Life Without Parole” does not exist. It only exists as long as the state legislature lets it exist and there is already a bill that has passed through the legislature in recent weeks to alter “LWOP” for juveniles in some circumstances. The day after this referendum passes, the same individuals both incarcerated and those behind this proposition will begin trying to dismantle LWOP using the exact same arguments. As far as 100 million dollars over three years for “cold case” investigations: the annual budget for LAPD is over a BILLION dollars annually. Even if a 33 million dollar check was directed solely to this one agency, it is hard to see how this would have any impact. Again, this part of the referendum is designed to mislead uninformed voters who make up their mind at the ballot box after reading a simple paragraph describing the referendum. Lastly, forcing death row inmates to work towards some restitution fund is completely unworkable and probably something that would be challenged in court should the state actually implement it. Providing security for some of the most violent and dangerous offenders in US criminal history is not feasible and the Corrections department could ignore it. Again this aprt of the referendum is designed to mislead gullible voters in that split second at the voting booth. It is interesting that supporters put forth morality as a reason to get rid of the death penalty but then designed a disingenuous proposition that they know to be misleading in an immoral attempt to mislead ignorant “low information” voters. Where is the morality there?

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avatar Dudley Sharp September 6, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Vic:

We already know, via fact chekcing, that the cost studies are unreliable. Please review.

Cost of Death vs. Life in Prison

There is zero credible evidence that ending the death penalty will save $130 million per year or that such ending will make available an additional $100 million to help investigations of murder or rape cases.

So far, the cost studies have been a horrendous and misleading joke, easily uncovered by fact checking, which few seem to be interested in.

Response to Absurd California Death Penalty Cost “Study”
http://goo.gl/RbQDU

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avatar Courtney Minick September 7, 2012 at 11:19 am

The costs of the death penalty are well established by reliable sources. Federal Judge (and former death penalty prosecutor) Arthur Alarcon authored a law review article, along with Loyola Law School Professor Paula Mitchell, that found that we have spent $1B on the death penalty since 1978, and are on track to spend $4B over the next 5 years.

The non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office did their own study, and found that replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole will save the state $130M per year.

SAFE California has over 10,000 donors and supporters behind this effort, with donations from $5 to $5,000 and more. Supporters include clergy, law enforcement, labor leaders, elected officials, victim family members, conservatives and liberals.

The SAFE California Fund will provide $100M over 3 years to help solve crime in our communities. The money will be directed to local law enforcement to bring down the shocking unsolved crime rates in this state. Right now, 46% of murders and 56% of reported rapes go unsolved every year.

Voters would rather spend precious state resources on keeping our communities safe than on death row inmates who are already safely locked up behind bars forever. Life in prison without parole is a harsh punishment, and it will keep heinous killers behind bars until they die, with no hope of ever getting out.

Proposition 34 is justice that works – for everyone.

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avatar Courtney Minick September 7, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Oops, typo in my comment above – I mixed up two numbers!

The correct figures from the Alarcon/Mitchell Report are:

California has spent $4B on the death penalty since 1978, and we are on track to spend $1B in the next five years.

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avatar Dudley Sharp September 7, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Ms. Minick:

Alarcon/ Mitchell depended quite a lot on the Legislative Anlaysts review (CCFAJ Report) which I fact checked, as linked, above.

I suspect you never read it.

Fact checking matters.

Read the chart from the “Estimating the Annual Costs of Four Alternatives”, from the top page 147 of the CCFAJ Report then read my fact checking review.

The CCFAJ numbers make zero sense. They just are not possible, as it took me about 15 minutes to figure out.

Please review and then reply.

Obvioulsy, you did not read the dissents at the end of the report. You should.

This was not, remotely, a non partisan review, as easily discovered within those comments.

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avatar Dudley Sharp September 18, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Cost Studies: Fact Checking Anyone?

There are two problems.

A) No one seems to have fact checked the Paula/Alarcon cost reports.

Paula/Alarcon seem to have, primarily, depended upon the CCFAJ cost review, which has huge problems and appears, completely, undependable.

Death opponents are saying that it will only cost $15,700/yr/inmate when we transfer them from death row to their life cells.

Nonsense. The average cell cost for all inmates was $49,000/inmate/yr in 2008-2009 (1)

For higher security inmates the costs range from $71,000-$172,000/inmate/yr. (1), not $15,700.

There is zero credible evidence that ending the death penalty will save $130 million per year or that such ending will make available an additional $100 million to help investigations of murder or rape cases.

B) Paula/Alarcon both appear dedicated to ending the death penalty, making zero recommendations to fix the Ca problems, even though the solutions are quite clear and easy to implement, when the will exists to do so.

For example, Virginia executes within 7.1 years of sentencing, on average, and has executed 75% of those so sentenced, a protocol that Ca could implement and which would all but guarantee that costs would be less than LWOP.

All Judge Alarcon has done is to restate how irresponsible the system, inclusive of judges, has been, while offering no solutions. Same ole, same ole – standard death penalty opponent.

With a responsible death penalty system, as Virginia’s, with all parties, working together, there is no debate in Ca.

But, when the defense bar, the judiciary, etc. are colluding together and in plain view, to thwart the law and the will of the people, that is what has created the problem.

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