My daughter Polly’s killer has been on death row since 1996. This November, California voters will be asked to overturn his sentence and the death sentences of 724 other serial killers, baby killers, cop killers and mass murderers. Of those, 126 involved torture before murder, 173 killed children and 44 murdered police officers. Proposition 34 will appear on California’s ballot to retroactively outlaw the death penalty in favor of life without the possibility of parole.
Proposition 34 is being led by so-called abolitionists associated with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who claim that we should abolish the death penalty because it’s broken. Ironically, they point to today’s administrative bottlenecks, many of which they themselves created over the years, as justification. They believe that voters will be fooled into approving an initiative that will reward evil scum under the guise of alleged cost saving.
The true solution is more simple: If the death penalty is broken, mend it, don’t end it.
First, adopt one standard drug for executions. Several states, including Ohio, Washington and Arizona, use a constitutionally-valid single drug for executions. Since 2009, Ohio has conducted 14 executions using this method. Executions in California, however, have been delayed because death penalty opponents endlessly file appeals claiming the current three-drug method is unconstitutional because it may be “cruel and unusual.” The final 10 minutes of a remorseless killer’s life are not legitimate grounds to delay the death penalty.
Second, Prop. 34 supporters assert that the final appeals process and the death penalty itself is too expensive for the state to maintain. Yet there is no objective data that the elimination of the death penalty will save money. The studies relied upon by death penalty opponents were created based on their own data and their credibility is highly questionable. The only unbiased study to determine the true cost was done by the RAND Corporation, a nonpartisan organization that aims to improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND found there was no objective data available to give a true estimate of the costs of the death penalty.
There certainly is no question that the automatic appeals process is arduous and burdensome. Over the years, there have been many legislative and constitutional efforts to fix this problem. Retired California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George endorsed a constitutional amendment to allow appeals courts to hear such appeals, which would significantly reduce costs and delays. Other recommendations have been to modify and limit the time for filing certain types of appeals and to require defense attorneys to take appeals. Currently, California has more than 175,000 practicing attorneys, yet only about 100 are qualified to represent automatic appeals.
Unfortunately, elected officials who advocate on behalf of death row inmates never allow those legislative changes to see the light of day. On April 17, I testified before the state senate public safety committee on two measures that would have streamlined the process. Senate Bill 1514 would have eliminated the automatic appeal in cases, like Polly’s, where guilt was never in doubt. It was defeated by a straight party vote. Senate Constitutional Amendment 20 (SCA 20) would have amended the California constitution so that appeals of death penalty cases would go to the California Court of Appeals instead of the California Supreme Court. Our 105 Appeals Court justices would be able to rule on many more death penalty appeals than the seven Supreme Court justices, greatly easing the backlog. SCA 20 was defeated because it would cost too much.
The death penalty has historically been supported by a majority of Californians. The law of the land and the will of the people have been subverted by administrative shenanigans, frivolous appeals, endless delays and moral bankruptcy. The very individuals and organizations that have created a broken system in California now want the voters to legitimize their misanthropic actions.
California’s Proposition 34 mocks our system of crime and punishment as it attempts to give our worst criminals the very thing that they denied their victims: the right to live their lives in safety and die in peace.