Sunday, August 19, 2012

Many death penalty opponents were once supporters

Something I've learned from working on the current campaign to replace California's death penalty with life in prison without parole as the sentence for heinous killers: people who have seen up close how the death penalty works (or fails to work) are some of the most articulate supporters of Prop. 34. They know we could do better at using our resources to move toward justice that works for everyone.

I've passed along previously the reflections of Ron Briggs who worked to pass our current death penalty and of Donald Heller who wrote the law. They have been key movers of Prop. 34.

Retired California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno describes himself as supporting the death penalty. While on the court, he voted to uphold some 200 death sentences. But he thinks it is time for California to give it up. In the official ballot arguments for Prop. 34, he asserts

“… there’s no chance California’s death penalty can ever be fixed. The millions wasted on this broken system would be much better spent keeping teachers, police and firefighters on their jobs.”

Recently he elaborated:

“I would think that we could fix the system, make it more efficient and actually faster, but I just don’t see that coming anywhere in the future,” said the former justice, a Gray Davis appointee who retired from the court in February 2011. “In California the people may be willing to support the death penalty in principle but they’re not willing to fund it.”

The costs amount to $184 million a year, according to a study last year co-written by another death penalty supporter, Arthur Alarcon, a judge on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That covers the extra expenses of trials, appeals and maintaining a Death Row that now houses 725 inmates. On average, their cases take more than 20 years to decide — prompting Moreno to observe that when death sentences get overturned, “I don’t see how you can realistically retry those cases.” Death penalty appeals also take up more than 25 percent of the caseload of the state Supreme Court, which automatically reviews every verdict in a capital case.

Enough. In November we get a chance to end this broken system, to ensure we never execute an innocent person, and to stop this waste of California's scarce tax dollars.

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