End the death penalty in 2012

If we can't muster a death penalty ban on moral grounds, what about economic ones?

|
(6)

EDITORIAL It's time to end the death penalty in California. And November 2012 may be the best chance.

A coalition led by the ACLU is launching a campaign for a ballot initiative to end executions in this state. All the pieces are in place: an outmoded, dysfunctional system that a growing number of law-enforcement veterans say is a waste of time an money. An emerging majority of California voters who no longer support the death penalty. And what's shaping up to be a well-funded, well-organized campaign aiming for a vote in a presidential election year, when turnout will be relatively high.

The moral and human case against the death penalty is obvious — giving the state the power to kill people is wrong. The implementation of the system is, to say the least, arbitrary and capricious: Poor people and people of color are way more likely to face capital punishment than white people who have money. Many, if not most, of the people on death row have serious mental health issues, organic brain damage or were victims of abuse. No other civilized country in the developed world still allows executions.

But there's also hard, cold, financial evidence that the current system isn't working, evidence that appeals to conservatives. Simply put, the death penalty is a phenomenal waste of money. Since 1978, a recent Los Angeles Times study showed, California has spent $4 billion to execute a grand total of 13 people. That's $308 million per killing.

It costs $184 million more a year to keep 714 people on death row than it would cost if they were serving life without parole. It costs millions more to prosecute and defend capital cases (a relatively low-cost death penalty prosecution still costs $1 million more than a high-priced LWOP case) and the state spends more than $300,000 per inmate for publicly subsidized defense.

Most of the death row inmates have no appeals lawyers; the cost of appeals is so high, and the work so difficult, that few private lawyers will take those cases, and the wait for a publicly funded attorney is more than 15 years. Victims get little closure from executions, since the process (properly, and by law) takes so long and is so drawn out. In fact, the most common cause of death on death row is old age.

Then there's the fact that the drugs used in California executions are no longer made in the United States — and imported drugs may not meet U.S. quality standards. So the lethal-injection protocol now in place — which is, by itself, cruel and unusual punishment — may not survive legal challenges.

So it's time. Local governments in San Francisco and the East Bay should endorse the effort and help promote the ballot measure. The coalition needs money and volunteers for signature gathering. Go to safecalifornia. org and sign up.

Comments

While capital punishment is rare nowadays, it may not be accurate to say, "No other civilized country in the developed world still allows executions." Doesn't Japan? Taiwan?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 10, 2011 @ 4:02 pm

It's revealing that the Editor attempts to stake out a morally superior position by resorting to lying. He wrote "No other civilized country in the developed world still allows executions." I've no doubt that he's well aware that Japan has executed hundreds of convicted criminals since WWII, and continues to do so. And Japan -- by any metric -- is at least as "civilized" as the US; a wealthy, developed nation with a fraction of our violent crimes, homelessness, poverty, drug abuse, domestic violence, illiteracy and even litter. "Civilized", scrupulously polite and law-abiding Japan certainly is, and yet they do indeed exercise capital punishment. Of course, for the editor to admit this fact would prevent him from being able to make a sweeping generalization to support his argument.

He also wrote "The moral and human case against the death penalty is obvious — giving the state the power to kill people is wrong." Oh? In what way? If execution wes "wrong", why wouldn't imprisonment likewise be "wrong"? After all, one could just as easily claim that imprisonment was tantamount to "kidnapping" and "holding hostage" a person, and we humans place a high value upon freedom and would abhor being kidnapped and held hostage. What makes the deprivation of life beyond the pale but the deprivation of a fellow human's freedom of movement somehow moral or ethical?

He continued "Poor people and people of color are way more likely to face capital punishment than white people who have money." This is true. It's also true that "poor people and people of color are way more likely to face" ANY kind of punishment "than white people who have money", including punishment for say, domestic violence. Does this somehow mean that we should stop punishing people of all skin colors for committing domestic violence? It's throwaway claims like this that undermine his argument, rather than supporting it.

Likewise, his claim "Many, if not most, of the people on death row have serious mental health issues, organic brain damage or were victims of abuse" could equally be applied to say, people in prison for theft. In what sensible way should this fact affect sentencing? It shouldn't. Justice and sympathy for one's back-story are two different things.

By definition, justice should be both appropriate and proportionate to the crime. In many regards, we already apply punishment that is *appropriate* to the crime. When a person is convicted of embezzlement, we require them to make financial restitution; we don't force them to be chemically castrated. We also, in many regards, apply punishment that is *proportionate* to the crime. When a person is convicted of speeding, we don't sentence them to life in prison; nor do we sentence a rapist to 30 days. In what sense is the deprivation of freedom appropriate or proportionate punishment for murder? And the notion that it's somehow *worse* to be a lifer who must spend the rest of their life feeling guilty for committing murder is an utter fiction.

The state locks up serious white-collar criminals for life, as well as some drug dealers and others whose crimes involved no violence. For it to apply the same punishment to a premeditated murderer is nonsensical. To sentence a premeditated murderer or serial killer to life in prison, we undermine the very notion of appropriate, proportionate justice. They have taken lives, so they should forfeit their own. The fact that the state finds itself in a position to be the instrument of justice is unfortunate, but nonetheless necessary.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 15, 2011 @ 10:37 am

Ethnocentric in casting a broad net, perhaps. An intellectually dishonest attempt it isn't. A basic rule to remember is that bombast isn't a substitute for substance. Just because someone says it doesn't make that "it" true. Similarly, like many death penalty convictions that come from heavy-handed labels, the cases involving individuals aren't a license to put our brains in a box and leave the rest to auto-pilot and the justice system.

There are many valid key points editors have made using an argument of value for setting future policy, and cite numerous good reasons for making a change for the better. Overall, it's good policy and I support abolishing the death penalty. It's the right decision, a vote of confidence in due process, cheaper, humane, gives us standing when taking up human rights issues in other areas, and that's bargaining power.

Count on my vote.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 18, 2011 @ 6:40 am

I'm not going to judge the quality of the article since what's much more important is the topic it covers.
Personally I believe that nobody should kill anyone, be it the state (but who is the state if not the people?) or a person that is called a criminal.
The purpose of legal systems should be to give all people the same rights. This implies of course that people need to be constricted in some way; if one kills another he violated the right of that person to live and should be at least for some time be kept away from society. But the goal of the system is certainly not to seek vengeance! So, no reason to further kill people "legally".

Also, nobody kills because he/she is evil! People kill either, because the believe they have to (for example because of religious reasons, like in case of Dschihad oder crusades, or in the case of many people who see a necessity in death penalty) or because they don't know what they are doing or couldn't control themselves in a certain situation. There is no bad people, it's only situations or conditions that are bad.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2012 @ 2:22 pm

The arguments in support of the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and erroneous. The Act would only make our prisons less safe for both other prisoners and prison officials, 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 ground. 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.

Posted by CBernstien on Jun. 30, 2012 @ 10:52 pm

The arguments in support of the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and erroneous. The Act would only make our prisons less safe for both other prisoners and prison officials, 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 ground. 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.

Posted by CBernstien on Jun. 30, 2012 @ 10:53 pm