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

by on September 6, 2012 · 6 comments

in California, Civil Rights, Election, Life Events

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.

This article originally appeared at San Diego Free Press.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Chris Bernstien September 6, 2012 at 9:34 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. 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 Courtney Minick September 7, 2012 at 11:18 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 James September 7, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Courney – your ideas intrigue me, and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

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avatar Courtney Minick September 7, 2012 at 3:55 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 EdC September 10, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Without a death penalty option, there would have been no motivation for John Gardner to plead to the murders of Chelsea King and Amber Dubois. The implementation of the death penalty needs to be vastly improved, including things like requirements for incontrovertible physical evidence, not just eye witnesses, and pursuing capital punishment in the rare cases where it is overwhelmingly warranted. Without this leverage, Gardner would have had no incentive to bring closure to the Dubois case.

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avatar CatherineBurke October 7, 2012 at 4:40 pm

In this election year what becomes MOST important is fixing our broken Justice System to actually uphold the VERDICT. Life in Prison WITHOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE should always and forever remain just that. And the Death Penalty should be conducted as swiftly as the
CHOICE THE MURDERER MADE IN KILLING…

For you see, I am left to live a life now, which is truly TOO INHUMANE to be forced to live. And I hope you can all open your eyes, to see what it is to be a VICTIM, and extend to VICTIMS such as us, the same understanding, compassion, and HUMANITY that is all too often offered more to the MURDERERS!

Vote NO on Proposition 34 – If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for your children…
My 14 year old daughter, Kessa, is waiting… To stand behind the glass, and watch as they execute William Gary Simpson. She can’t feel SAFE, until he is DEAD. She speaks of this, every single day! Because she has nightmares of what Simpson did, every single night. It is her way of dealing with the trauma of witnessing Simpson murder her sister! It is this hope to see him die, that keeps her going forward, for now…
And for ME? I saw everything that demon, William Gary Simpson, did on December 20, 2011… I now know it is true – that MONSTERS DO EXIST!
And I am living proof, THAT NO ONE IS SAFE!

We are not mistaken, about the man – William Gary Simpson, who attacked us! We knew him for over 10 years… And the trust he destroyed in the lives of so many, who can never trust in love or friends again? I not only looked into his face, I saw – in horror- just what he was capable of doing to all the people I love!

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