Californians Voted to Keep The Death Penalty. It Was Wrong
Back on July 16, 2014, federal judge Cormac J. Carney of the United States District Court ruled that California’s death penalty system is unconstitutional because it is arbitrary and plagued with delay. The state has not executed a prisoner since 2006. Unfortunately, old traditions, even unjust and immoral ones such as the California Death Penalty(“DP”) do not go away easily. The “death Penalty” tradition, unlike racism, is one that can be totally eradicated by voter referendum.
Amnesty International states, “Capital punishment does not work. There is a wealth of mounting evidence that proves this fact. The death penalty, both in the U.S. and around the world, is discriminatory and is used disproportionately against the poor, minorities and members of racial, ethnic and religious communities. Since humans are fallible, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated.”
On November 8th 2016,Californians had a chance to vote on repealing the Death Penalty in California (Prop 62). Unfortunately the proposition lost. 53% of Californians voted to keep state sponsored executions.
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Putting aside moral arguments for the elimination of the DP, the financial cost to the public for long protracted appeals and special housing of those on death row amounts to over $200 million per year.
Let’s examine all the elements that surround the “Pro Con” DP arguments.
Deterrent – The threat of execution at some future date is unlikely to enter the minds of those acting under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, those who are in the grip of fear or rage, those who are panicking while committing another crime (such as a robbery), or those who suffer from mental illness or mental retardation and do not fully understand the gravity of their crime.
States that have the DP have a murder rate that is approximately 30-50% greater than those that do not have the DP. One might conclude that there is a coincidence of more crime in DP states, which creates a need for the DP. A more realistic conclusion is that those states with the DP are more apt to have an environment of violence perpetrated by the state that sends a message to potential murders to be more violent. Other support for non DP punishment is countries mainly in the European Union that have lower murder rates that have abolished the DP. Unfortunately, the US has lagged many other developed nations in its ability to implement Human Rights progress.
Fairness – Racial and geographic disparities in who is sentenced to death. High costs of the DP compared to life in prison. Under-funding of defense counsel for poor defendants. Juries that do not represent the community. 95% of death penalty cases are defended by Public Defenders, whereas someone like O.J. Simpson who had the financial clout to hire the best criminal attorneys. Those who are actually sentenced to the DP are predominately the poor who cannot afford thorough defenses. DP Juries are picked based on the fact that they cannot have a bias against the DP, so therefore are pro DP, which leans in the favor of granting the DP.
Innocent People – Since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death rows throughout the country due to evidence of their wrongful convictions. In 2003 alone, 10 wrongfully convicted defendants were released from death row. The above does not take into account those on death row who have not sought further proof that they are innocent. Execution unfortunately is not reversible and no money or reparations by the state can make an innocent executed person free or come back to life.
Racist – In a 1990 report, the non-partisan U.S. General Accounting Office found “a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing, and imposition of the death penalty.” The study concluded that a defendant was several times more likely to be sentenced to death if the murder victim was white. This has been confirmed by the findings of many other studies that, holding all other factors constant, the single most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to death is the race of the victim. On average a Black person is 4 to 5 times more likely to be executed than a Caucasian for committing murder. From initial charging decisions to plea bargaining to jury sentencing, African-Americans are treated more harshly when they are defendants, and their lives are accorded less value when they are victims. All-white or virtually all-white juries are still commonplace in many localities.
Financial – Using conservative rough projections, the Commission estimates the annual costs of the present system ($137 million per year), the present system after implementation of the reforms … ($232.7 million per year) … and a system which imposes a maximum penalty of lifetime incarceration instead of the death penalty ($11.5 million. In California the current system costs $137 million per year; it would cost $11.5 million for a system without the death penalty.
Vindication/Restitution – Executing the murderer will never bring back the life of the victim. If there is a possibility of giving restitution to the victim’s family from the accused, then executing the accused erases any possibility for the accused to make restitution to the victim’s family. What needs to be examined is our antiquated value system of an “Eye for an Eye” that has come out of an ancient book. Some of us have a defect in our emotional chemistry that somehow lets us believe that if we injure, or kill the perpetrator that another violent act against the perpetrator will heal the victim. This is not meant in any way to weaken the ability of a victim to defend them against a perpetrator. Some people are confused about the value of “Forgiveness” and healthy physical and emotional “Boundaries”.
Conclusion – Based on what knowledge is available to the present, there is no scientific data that supports the benefit of capital punishment to society over a lifetime of incarceration. The movement in most countries as well as states in the USA is the abolishment of capital punishment. The question is why are we so slow to abolish capital punishment even though there are volumes of supportable data that flies in the face of capital punishments benefit to society. Could it be both myths, traditions, and our emotional need for revenge?
Summary – 19 states plus the District of Columbia have abolished the DP. The amount of executions and support of the DP has dropped precipitously. We Californians are considered to be Progressive and on the cutting edge of change, we sure didn’t vote like it.
CA Election Results 2016 – Instead of repealing the death penalty, California narrowly voted yes (50.91%) on Prop 66. A measure that expediates the death row appeals process. So instead of getting rid of state sponsored executions, a very narrow majority of Californians voted to give death row inmates less time to appeal for their lives.