California is set for a major debate on the death penalty following qualification on Monday of a November ballot measure that would replace capital punishment with a life term without possibility of parole.
As a fervent campaigner against the death penalty, I am thrilled. Murder by government decree is morally wrong and solves nothing.
Supporters collected more than the 504,760 valid signatures needed to place the measure, known as the SAFE (Savings, Accountability, and Full Enforcement) California Act, on the ballot. It would make California the 18th state in the nation without a death penalty. During the last five years, four states have replaced the death penalty and Connecticut is likely to follow soon.
If it passes, the 725 California inmates now on death row will have their sentences converted to life in prison without the possibility of parole. It would also make life without parole the harshest penalty prosecutors can seek. Just 13 people have been executed since the law was re-introduced in 1978.
Major Savings In A Cash-Poor State
Backers of the measure say abolishing the death penalty will save the state millions of dollars through layoffs of prosecutors and defense attorneys who handle death penalty cases, as well as savings from not having to maintain the nation’s largest death row at San Quentin prison.
Those savings, supporters argue, can be used to help unsolved crimes. If the measure passes, $100 million in purported savings from abolishing the death penalty would be used over three years to investigate unsolved murders and rapes.
Growing numbers of conservatives in California have joined the effort to repeal the state’s capital punishment law, expressing frustration with its price tag and the rarity of executions. California has executed 13 inmates since the law was re-introduced in 1978, and prisoners are far more likely to die of old age on death row than by the executioner’s needle.
Look Who Have Changed Their Minds !
Here are a few who are backing the SAFE Act: Ron Briggs ran the 1978 campaign for a successful ballot initiative that expanded the reach of California’s death penalty; Donald J. Heller is an ex-prosecutor who wrote the 1978 initiative; Jeanne Woodford is a former warden of San Quentin State Prison who oversaw four executions, and is now executive director of Death Penalty Focus; and former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, who has said his experience as D.A. helped change his mind about the fairness of the system.
Although their views on the proposition are unknown, former California Chef Justice Ronald M. George and current Chief Tani Cantil-Sakauye, both Republican former prosecutors, have stated publicly that the death penalty system is not working.
From The Los Angeles Times:
The chorus of criticism has death penalty advocates worried, even though California voters have historically favored capital punishment, passing several measures over the last few decades to toughen criminal penalties and expand the number of crimes punishable by death.
“The people of California have regularly voted for the death penalty by wide margins, but of course it has to be a matter of concern,” said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which advocates for tough criminal penalties. He said fundraising to defeat the November measure would be difficult.
Scheidegger’s group filed a lawsuit last week seeking a court order to force the state to establish a single-drug lethal injection procedure that his group says should end litigation that has blocked executions for six years.
The death penalty is wrong. Get out to the ballot in November, Californians, and let’s vote to get rid of this broken system.
Photo Credit: Steve Rhode