Californians to Vote on Abolishing Capital Punishment in November

On Monday, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced that a measure to abolish capital punishment in California has qualified for the November ballot. The initiative is titled “SAFE California – the Savings, Accountability, and Full Enforcement for California Act“, and essentially “repeals death penalty as maximum punishment for persons found guilty of murder and replaces it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole.” SAFE California claims that the abolishment of death row “creates $100 million fund to be distributed to law enforcement agencies to help solve more homicide and rape cases.” Inmates currently on death row will be re-sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole, and are required to work within prison while serving time.

Thirty-five states in the US currently authorize capital punishment, including California. Interestingly enough, our state has not actually put any inmate to death since 2006, since San Jose Federal Judge Jeremy Fogel found fault with the execution process and put a halt to capital punishment in the state.

The capital punishment process in the state is flawed and does require over $100 million dollars of taxpayer dollars to maintain. But this does not mean that we should abolish capital punishment altogether. State Senator Joel Anderson wrote a Fox & Hounds editorial earlier in March, stating that the death penalty process should be fixed, not ended:

The death penalty process in California is broken. Opponents of the death penalty claim that abolishing the death penalty and replacing it with a lifetime prison term will save California money while adequately punishing those convicted of committing society’s most heinous crimes.

Common sense substantiates none of these claims.  How much money will be saved by incarcerating a murderer for the remainder of their lives when the average annual cost of incarceration in California is more than $47,000 per inmate?  California’s death penalty is broken, but it can be fixed by streamlining the appeals process and ending the unnecessary delays that deny justice to the families of crime victims.

Instead, he proposes an alternative to SAFE California’s all-out ban on capital punishment, taking steps to streamline the process and prevent overspending on the government’s part:

That is why I’ve introduced legislation which aims to streamline the lengthy appeals process for those who commit murder under special circumstances.  Senate Bill 1514 would remove the automatic appeal to the California Supreme Court for those sentenced to death.  Senate Constitutional Amendment 20 would amend the California Constitution so that appeals of death penalty cases would go to the California Court of Appeals instead of the California Supreme Court.

By reforming the appeals process for those cases with special circumstances, California will ensure justice is not unnecessarily delayed.  It will take the strain off families who’ve had to relive the tragedy they suffered every five years in onerous technical appeals, and prevent those whose guilt is certain from getting de-facto retrials at the state’s highest level of justice, forcing victims loved ones to stand trial again.  By strengthening the process, SB 1514 will ensure justice for the families of crime victims.

No one believes we should punish those that don’t deserve it.  Under SB 1514 those seeking appeals will get them in the Court of Appeals based on the merit of the evidence they present, just as any other criminal would.  Moreover, the convicted convinced of their innocence can always appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Justice delayed is justice denied.  There is no greater threat to a free society than the weakening of its criminal laws.  California’s leaders would be wise to keep that in mind as they continue their quest to abolish the death penalty.

(To send a letter of support to Senator Anderson for SB 1514 and SCA 20, email Senator.Anderson@sen.ca.gov.)