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Originally posted at Fair and Unbalanced

It is easy to be smug here in California, driving our hybrids, drinking our soy lattes, and condescendingly observing the executions in other states from afar.

Troy Davis is executed in Georgia despite serious doubts about his guilt.  Duane Buck comes within hours of execution in Texas despite a trial marred by racism.  Rick Perry boasts about presiding over more executions than any other governor while the GOP faithful cheer him on.

But California's death penalty scheme suffers from the same problems that plague other states.  It is costly, arbitrary, discriminatory, and unworkable.  It serves no useful purpose while diverting needed resources from true public safety programs.

We would like to believe that our justice system reserves the death penalty for the “worst of the worst,” but with a population over 700, California has the largest death row in the country -- by far.  And more often the determining factor for death sentences is not the nature of the crime, but race, geography and/or the quality of trial counsel.  (See, e.g., Death Rattle For California, California's Dysfunctional Death Penalty, California's Unusually Cruel Death Penalty, State of Barbarism.)

Due to the tangle of state and federal legal procedures intended to speed up and circumscribe the appellate process, we too have experienced executions in the face of new evidence raising questions about guilt.  As an article in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle observed, even assuming California provides greater protections than other death-penalty states, no state "can guarantee the guilt of everyone it has condemned.  And none of California's due-process protections kept 42-year old Thomas Thompson from going to his death in 1998 for a murder he may not have committed."

And then there is the cost.  A study released in June by U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Arthur L. Alarcon found that California's death penalty system is currently costing the state about $184 million per year.  Further, "since reinstating the death penalty in 1978, California taxpayers have spent roughly $4 billion to fund a dysfunctional death penalty system that has carried out no more than 13 executions."

It is time to end the death penalty in California.  Recent polling shows Californians' strong support for life without the possibility of parole as the ultimate punishment instead of the death penalty.  These findings are in line with other polling data in California and nationwide.

One of my colleagues put it this way:

A lot have people have been moved to action by the Troy Davis execution. Close to home, Californians can do something: join the campaign to repeal the death penalty in California next year. California has its own unhealthy attachment to the death penalty. In 2009, LA County sentenced more people to death than the entire state of Texas, and the California Supreme Court has upheld almost every death sentence it has reviewed since [former Chief Justice] Rose Bird was ousted in the mid-1980s -- a higher affirmance rate than in many southern states. Our Death Row has topped 700 -- by far the largest in the country. Thankfully, executions here have been stopped by federal court review of the lethal injection process. Polling shows Californians would be willing to get rid of the death penalty on fiscal grounds, and now is the time to do it!

The SAFE California campaign will start gathering signatures in October to put before the voters at the November 2012 election an initiative to replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole with work and restitution to victims through a victim compensation fund. The initiative also sets up the SAFE California fund which would set aside $30 million dollars every year, for three years, for local law enforcement.

To get involved, to donate or for more information, click here.

Originally posted to Lovechilde on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 12:49 PM PDT.

Also republished by Abolish the Death Penalty and California politics.

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Comment Preferences

  •  no need to preface with RW culture war slurs (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kestrel9000, David Kaib

    to make what is a profoundly sound argument for repealing the death penalty in CA. i hope your initiative gets on the ballot, and will vote for it if it does.

    i think the election of kamala harris was a watershed moment, politically, in california, and denotes a huge shift on how the state electorate thinks of crime and the death penalty.

    •  re culture war (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wu ming, kestrel9000, Bindle, irishwitch

      You are probably right -  I was just trying to be clever in making the point about how easy it is for us to reflexively smirk at Texas and Georgia.  I completely agree with your point about the Kamala Harris -- and the rest of the Democratic ticket which was elected despite their personal opposition to the death penalty.  I wrote about that back then:  Tough On Crime

    •  safe ca will not pass (0+ / 0-)

      The voters like having a death penalty even though it is never used. The only way to pass it would  be to stress the financial benefit   because the moral issues don't move people they have a blood lust.

      •  Since there is at best a bare majority (0+ / 0-)

        that supports the death penalty nationally when the alternative is life imprisonment, I find it hard to believe that CA has large, blood lusting majorities.  

        Even then, you don't need to turn everyone that supports it, only the most ambivalent. Those people care about innocence.  

        Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

        by David Kaib on Wed Sep 28, 2011 at 04:16:04 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  It's about time (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    irishwitch
    The California death penalty system costs taxpayers $114 million per year beyond the costs of keeping convicts locked up for life.
    Taxpayers have paid more than $250 million for each of the state’s executions. (L.A. Times, March 6, 2005)

    link

    Also, since 2009, only one man has been executed in California.  During that same period, two condemned men died of drug overdoses on Death Row.

    And yet this remains a hot-button issue in Sacramento.  Consensus is unlikely even given our horrific budget deficit.

    Thanks for posting.

    I used to be Snow White...but I drifted.

    by john07801 on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 01:53:52 PM PDT

    •  It costs $114 million because opponents... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      irishwitch

      ...of the death penalty in CA, in our byzantine political process, have put in enough expensive and redundant processes to grind the system to a near halt.  So it's a little cynical to invoke the expense as a reason for abolition.

      The Rent Is Too Damn High Party feels that if you want to marry a shoe, I'll marry you. --Jimmy McMillan

      by Rich in PA on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 04:50:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Anything to end the barbaric practice (0+ / 0-)

        Other states have suddenly debated abolition due to cost after decades of the "closure" nonsense.  I just don't want my government stooping to the level of the criminals.

        And Schwartzenegger got his new death house, didn't he?

        I used to be Snow White...but I drifted.

        by john07801 on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 05:01:51 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Also helping bring the system to a halt: (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        irishwitch

        public concern over the execution of innocent people.  

        Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

        by David Kaib on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 05:03:48 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Please sign my petition to abolish the death (0+ / 0-)

    penalty!

    You can find it here

    Diary here

    It reads:

    We petition the Obama administration to:

    Abolish the death penalty.

    Our criminal justice system is not perfect. Prosecutors, attorneys, defendants, judges and juries make mistakes. Since 1973, there have been 138 cases of prisoners who were exonerated and freed from death row. It stands to reason that there are other innocent people currently on death row awaiting execution.

    Regardless of whether capital punishment is right or wrong, it is often applied unfairly, it cannot be applied with 100% accuracy and it is an irreversible sentence. The risk of killing an innocent person is far too great to risk employing capital punishment at all.

    We urge you to abolish the death penalty. You should do it right away.

    It needs 108 more signatures to become searchable on the white house website. Please help it get there!

  •  Are you OK with letting people die in jail? (0+ / 0-)

    Because that's the only bargain that will get abolition over the hump.  I'm conflicted enough about the death penalty that I can at least try to offer unbiased advice to opponents, and that advice starts with saying you accept that life without parole has to mean just that.  Look at what happens with individual juries: the mere suggestion by the prosecution that a life sentence might not mean life is so prejudicial, in the sense of pushing the jury towards death, that it's typically grounds for a mistrial or a successful appeal.  That tells you where the public's head is at about this, and to me it suggests how abolition can go from a near-majority to an actual one.

    The Rent Is Too Damn High Party feels that if you want to marry a shoe, I'll marry you. --Jimmy McMillan

    by Rich in PA on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 04:48:45 PM PDT

    •  As a general rule (0+ / 0-)

      I think polls tell you where the public stands, not what death qualified juries (maybe?) do. Also

      Look at what happens with individual juries: the mere suggestion by the prosecution that a life sentence might not mean life is so prejudicial, in the sense of pushing the jury towards death, that it's typically grounds for a mistrial or a successful appeal.  

      I'm not sure what makes you say this, but I'm pretty sure the rules concerning these sorts of issues vary by state.  

      It seems to me, if we want advice, we can look to where the death penalty had been repealed.  

      Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

      by David Kaib on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 04:58:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah, but the advice from those states... (0+ / 0-)

        ...would be to have a certain racial and religious composition, and turn back time to a more generally abolitionist period.  Who's abolished the death penalty recently, save for Illinois?

        The Rent Is Too Damn High Party feels that if you want to marry a shoe, I'll marry you. --Jimmy McMillan

        by Rich in PA on Wed Sep 28, 2011 at 12:59:31 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Also, NJ (2007), NY (2007) and (0+ / 0-)

          NM (2009).  NM was prospective, and they have a few remaining prisoners on death row. NY was struck down by their high court, but the legislature refused to overturn it.  (It's worth noting that it does not appear in any of these cases did legislators suffer political losses as a result.)  

          Along with IL (2011), that makes 4 in the past 4 years.  MD also has been within a hair of repeal lately.  That list makes this one of the more favorable moments historically.

          So what about the larger point - with one exception, I believe, non-death penalty states have life without parole. So anyone wanting to argue that you can get rid of the death penalty without LWOP must acknowledge that there isn't much precedent.  But that is not to say that it is proven that it's required.  And it is not to say that once the death penalty is dealt with, we might see more states eliminate LWOP.  

          My guess is that if one political party were to offer a real criminal justice alternative to the excessive punitive approach both sides share, the public would shift, at least to some extent.

          Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

          by David Kaib on Wed Sep 28, 2011 at 04:29:38 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  ca has a death penalty in name only (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    David Kaib

    I think they execute someone maybe every 5 years so basically the death penalty is a life sentence and costing the state a fortune.
    They really should abolish it since it is never really used.

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