Californians will abolish the death penalty sooner or later, it doesn’t really matter which argument ultimately convinces them, be it moral, financial or risk of executing innocent people. But the sooner Californians discontinue the death penalty, a primitive system that kills people, the better.
On the ballot this Nov. 8 there will be two competing measures addressing the death penalty in California. Proposition 62 and proposition 66 both share the same mantra, being that the death penalty is a broken system in need of intervention, but don’t see eye to eye on the prognosis.
Taxpayers For Sentencing Reform sponsored an online ad that said, “California’s death penalty system was beyond repair” and plagued with “endless appeals” resulting in “millions of legal fees.”
Californians aren’t happy with the state of capital punishment in their state. In 1972 the California Supreme Court found that the death penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment and then reinstated it in 1978.
Since then 13 inmates were executed. Today there are 756 inmates on death row in California, 233 of them in Los Angeles County, and it’s costing the state 150 billion per year.
Prop. 62 proposes to repeal the death penalty as maximum punishment for persons found guilty of murder and replaces it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. It would be retroactive, applying to inmates previously sentenced to death and it would require the inmate to work while in prison and give 60 percent of their earnings to victim restitution.
“For me, it’s about costs, it’s money,” former El Dorado County Supervisor Ron Briggs said during a debate in September. Briggs is the son of John Briggs, the lawmaker who successfully drafted the proposal to bring back capital punishment in California in the 70s, and one of the strongest advocate for Prop. 62.
“We thought we would save money,” Briggs said. “We thought we would bring conclusion and closure to the victim’s families. And on every single fact, we were dead wrong.”
It’s hard to say if the financial argument will be strong enough for voters. Surely it will add some grip to the already shifting sensibility of public opinion towards the death penalty.
In 1978 the death penalty was reintroduced with the support of over 70 percent of the voters. In 2012, when another Californian ballot measure tried to repeal it, it failed 52 to 48 percent. The majority of the voters still wanted to keep the death penalty, but not as many. In 2016 Pew Research poll in 2016 found the capital punishment had the lowest support in 40 years.
“Ideas in the community change. The supreme court has mentioned this a number of times, the consensus of the community evolves,” attorney at law Nancy Haydt said during a panel presented by Capital Public Radio. “As to the death penalty, seven states in the past few years have done away with the death penalty so there is a sense that people are looking more critically at the death penalty and are not feeling nearly as comfortable with it as they have in the past.”
A study in 2009 showed that the death penalty isn’t an effective deterrent to crime and according to the American Civil liberties Union’s (ACLU) website between 1973 and 2015, 148 innocent death-row prisoners in 26 different states were exonerated and released.
It can only be speculated exactly how many people were wrongly executed, but a research shows that almost four percent of U.S. capital punishment sentences are wrongful convictions.
The proponents of Prop. 66 agree that the system is broken but do not want to end the death penalty because they think it wouldn’t be just for the families of the victims. They want to reform the execution process speeding up the appeals system.
“At the end of the day, once you have executed a condemned inmate, he can never kill again,” the president of the Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Association Michele Hanisee said during a debate on positions 61 and 66. One can hardly argue with her from a logical standpoint, but on every other level, there is much to say.
It is true, as she says, that there are people on death row that have served time for murder, got out, and killed again or that while serving life without parole killed another inmate or a prison guard, but saying that “to put it bluntly a dead person cannot commit another crime and that alone is a deterrent,” is too simplistic to say the least.
The last person to be executed in California was Clarence Ray Allen in 2006. He was already in prison for murder when he orchestrated the murder of additional people.
“The belief that we are safe because they are in prison is a false promise,” district attorney in Sacramento County, Anne Marie Schubert, said in the same debate.
That does not mean that we should put them to death because we don’t know how to manage them. For her, a supporter of Prop. 66, this “is about the victims of crime. We are talking about roughly one thousand victims that have been murdered by death row killers, we are talking about well over 200 children who most of them have been raped and murdered, we are talking about child killers, serial killers, police officers who have been killed in line of duty, we are talking about mass murderers who walk into schools and kill people for no other reason than just kill people.”
We are talking about criminals, but the state shouldn’t have power over their life, to end their life. As monstrous as they are, they have rights. Inmates have rights. Some they lose, but some they get to keep. They keep the right, under the Eighth Amendment, to be free from “cruel and unusual” punishment.
It’s about time start considering the death penalty as a cruel and unusual punishment regardless of the efficiency of the drugs used for the lethal injection. It is perverse to keep looking for a dignifying way to put inmates to death-as monstrous as their crimes can be.