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Conventional wisdom holds that support for the death penalty is a prerequisite for attaining or maintaining public office.  But voters are wising up to empty "tough on crime" rhetoric in these times of fiscal crisis.  Notably, Jerry Brown (Governor) and Kamala Harris (Attorney General) both defeated "law and order" opponents despite their personal opposition to the death penalty in the 2010 election.

Harris beat L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley whose main line of attack was her refusal to pursue the death penalty for the killer of a San Francisco policeman. Harris argued skillfully that the death penalty has not made us safer and that the money spent every year on the death penalty could be far more productively used to put more cops on the street and to fund programs which aim to stop recidivism

Brown is Governor again despite practically becoming an anti-death penalty icon. In 1960, he famously pleaded with his father, Governor Pat Brown, to spare condemned inmate Caryl Chessman's life.  (Chessman was executed after Pat Brown initially issued a 60-day reprieve.)  In 1977, then-Governor Jerry Brown followed his "conscience" and vetoed the death penalty bill passed by the legislature.  His veto was overridden, the bill became law, and a more expansive death penalty -- the Briggs Amendment -- passed by referendum the following year.  Brown appointed Rose Bird as Chief Justice, but she and two colleagues were voted off the bench in 1986, in a vitriolic campaign highlighting her reversals of death sentences.

Proposition 34, the SAFE California Act would replace our multi-billion dollar death penalty with life without parole.  It would also require restitution to victim families and would set aside $100 million for local law enforcement for the investigation of unsolved rape and murder cases.  It makes perfect sense as a matter of public policy as well as politics, and is an obvious fit for Brown and Harris, who both understand better than anyone that California's death penalty system is  time-consuming, unreliable, and unworkable, serving no useful purpose while draining judicial resources and diverting much-needed funds from truly effective public safety programs.

Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Chief Justice of the State of California, has concluded that the state's capital punishment system is "not effective" and requires "structural changes" that the State cannot afford.  Her predecessor, Ron George, who was Chief Justice for 15 years, came to the same conclusion, describing California's death penalty scheme as "dysfunctional."  

The non-partisan California Commission for the Fair Administration of Justice concluded after its extensive review, death sentences are unlikely ever to be carried out because of a process "plagued with excessive delay" in the appointment of postconviction counsel and a "severe backlog" in the state Supreme Court's review of death judgments.  According to the Commission's 2008 Report, the lapse of time from sentence of death to execution constitutes the longest delay of any death penalty state.  An oft-cited study undertaken by Arthur Alarcon, long-time judge of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, and law professor Paula Mitchell, concluded that since 1978, "California taxpayers have spent roughly $4 billion to fund a dysfunctional death penalty system that has carried out no more than 13 executions."  As noted in a recent article, "the study projected that by 2030, death-penalty expenditure will balloon to $9 billion for death-row housing, health care, legal appeals and the actual executions." with a death-row population, now 724 inmates, growing to more than 1,000.

But with the best, perhaps only chance to make history and end California's death penalty, with an opportunity to help create an enduring legacy that is in accord with their deeply-held belief systems, Jerry Brown and Kamala Harris, our two highest profile and most powerful political leaders, remain on the sidelines.  Brown merely stated he is glad the measure is on the ballot while declining to say how he will vote.  Harris has refused to take a position.

It is not too late for Jerry Brown and Kamala Harris to join the growing chorus of voices -- former prison officials, prosecutors, judges, conservative politicians, family of murder victims, exonerated former inmates -- and explain to voters how irrevocably broken our death penalty is and how Proposition 34 would save California hundreds of millions of dollars while making us safer.

Originally posted to Lovechilde on Tue Aug 21, 2012 at 10:39 AM PDT.

Also republished by Abolish the Death Penalty and California politics.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The death penalty is wrong, yet (0+ / 0-)

    California’s Annual Costs to Incarcerate an  Inmate in Prison

    It costs an average of about $47,000 per year to incarcerate an inmate in prison in California.
    From above
    Proposition 34 would save California hundreds of millions of dollars while making us safer.
    Let them go?  Another proposition....

    Enjoy the "almost high speed rail" between

    The Fresno to Bakersfield section of the 800-mile system is 114 miles long.

    for only $8 to $9 Billion

    California is truly broken....

    "When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains, And the women come out to cut up what remains, Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains An' go to your Gawd like a soldier." Rudyard Kipling

    by EdMass on Tue Aug 21, 2012 at 11:01:31 AM PDT

    •  death row and appeals process are more expensive (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sfbob, codairem, AaronInSanDiego

      than regular old prison, so getting rid of death penalty still saves money. there's another initiative on the ballot to restrict the insidious "3 strikes" law to serious violent offenses, which should limit the flow of people into the prison system with life sentences for minor crimes like shoplifting as well.

      as for the HSR, the central valley section is the part of the state with the least political power, and the flattest, cheapest part of the state to boot, so it makes sense to build it first, and then let the richer parts of the state fight to connect themselves to the system.

      california's demise has been predicted for years, and yet we persist. once the HSR system is built, we'll be far more insulated from oil price spikes than the rest of the country (save the acela corridor). the reason why there's so much effort nationwide to delay and disparage the project is that once functional HSR is built in this country, and tourists ride it, the long war against rail will crumble, and some powerful interests will lose money.

      •  Tourists? (0+ / 0-)

        Fresno to Bakersfield?

        You really think CA can afford to build the other 700 miles between LA and SF in you lifetime?

        Best of luck.

        Love the weather....

        "When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains, And the women come out to cut up what remains, Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains An' go to your Gawd like a soldier." Rudyard Kipling

        by EdMass on Tue Aug 21, 2012 at 01:19:51 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  SF - LA - anaheim, hell yes there will be tourists (0+ / 0-)

          and yes it will get built, and yes it will succeed as every other HSR built in the world has done, without exceptions. rail is already thriving in CA, and has seen steady increased ridership for two decades now. a HSR trunk to tie the regional rail together will make the whole system work.

          the NIMBYs have already tried to stop it, and have lost vote after vote, and lawsuit after lawsuit. ground breaks this winter on fresno to bako, and the next leg fresno to merced will follow soon after. next leg after that depends on whether the dems take the house back and restore national transportation funding, and whether the bay area pols finally decide to deal with the handful of peninsula cranks trying to stop[ this thing. my money's on bako-LA basin next, but YMMV.

          a second obama term will see intensified focus on getting this done, for legacy reasons. the more money available, the faster it will go.

          •  Two words for you... (0+ / 0-)

            "Big Dig"

            See: Boston, Central Artery/Harbor Tunnel, Remove/Replace

            "When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains, And the women come out to cut up what remains, Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains An' go to your Gawd like a soldier." Rudyard Kipling

            by EdMass on Tue Aug 21, 2012 at 03:46:13 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  the big dig is an extreme outlier (0+ / 0-)

              many other public works have been planned and built in the past decade. the bay bridge, even with the BS schwarzeneggar pulled to delay it and make it expensive, is on track to be completed next fall.

              hell, even the big dig got done, and is carrying traffic.

              california HSR will get done, despite the handful of NIMBYs with backyards next to a 150 year old rail right of way, despite the republican party, and despite people carping that the state can never build anything, that our best days are behind us, and that There Is No Alternative to the highway and sprawl model of the present.

              because if we don;t, the state is fucking hosed as gas prices continue to climb, and we look at the price of the alternative to HSR (ie. massive freeway and airport expansion).

  •  As an unindicted felon, ... (0+ / 0-)

    Tani Cantil-Sakauye's opinion is of no importance whatsoever.  As a protector of unindicted felons, Brown's opinion is no better.

    "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the universe." -- Albert Einstein

    by Neuroptimalian on Tue Aug 21, 2012 at 01:33:22 PM PDT

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