SAFE Act and the California Death Penalty (Proposition 34)

UPDATE:  Think "life without parole" means what it says?  Think again.  On 9/30/12 Governor Brown took the first step to parole those sentenced to life "without parole" by signing CA SB 9.  This new law allows 309 current inmates with life sentences "without parole" for having killed someone to be eligible for parole after serving as little as 15 years.  The bill applies to future cases as well.

Death penalty- SAFE Act Problems

California End the Death Penalty Initiative (2012)

California voters will have an opportunity this November 2012 to decide whether to pass the “SAFE California Act” and abolish the death penalty in that state under Proposition 34. The arguments in support of the ballot measure are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and erroneous.


The very acronym “SAFE” bemoans the double-speak introduced in George Orwell’s novel “1984.” First, SAFE claims that abandoning the death penalty will “save” money. SAFE claims that “California taxpayers will save well over $100 million every year without releasing a single prisoner.” Footnote In making this claim, proponents ignore that it is the actions of the very individuals involved with SAFE that have greatly increased the costs of the death penalty. Moreover, SAFE exaggerates the costs of the death penalty while ignoring the horrendous costs of life sentences with the ever-increasing medical costs of elderly inmates. In the long run, the Act would cost taxpayers significantly more because the alleged savings are mostly illusory and the increased costs are huge.

No Accountability Under Act

The second letter in SAFE’s acronym is one of “accountability,” asserting that “convicted killers will be held accountable and pay for their crimes. The SAFE Act requires persons convicted of murder to work and pay restitution into a victim’s compensation fund.” Footnote As detailed below, this claim is a farce added to the ballot measure for no other purpose than to misleadingly garner the votes of those otherwise favorable to the death penalty. The work requirement would also cause the costs of incarcerating these inmates more expensive than current costs, entirely eliminating any alleged savings from comparing incarceration costs between life sentences and death sentences.

If the Act was passed, these same proponents would continue to attack sentences of life without parole as cruel and unusual punishment prohibited under the Eighth Amendment. Efforts to release older inmates have already been advocated, generally by the same groups and individuals attacking the death penalty. Footnote

SAFE also ignores the fact that few inmates are going to volunteer to work if the earnings from that work are given to the victims of their crime. There is little incentive to work for free. Consequently, inmates would have to be compelled to work, receiving further punishment should they refuse to do so. A common punishment is to place them in isolation cells with reduced privileges. It cannot be expected that such forced labor would provide meaningful compensation to victims.

Also, the SAFE Act fails to include any provisions explaining what forms of work these inmates would be expected to perform, whether taxpayers would be paying for that labor, and how placing these violent inmates together in a working environment would save taxpayers money.

Consistent with current policies at San Quentin, death row inmates are generally unsuitable for work because of their violent and uncontrolled behavior. For this reason, most of these inmates’ time is spent locked in a one-person cell except for limited time in one of the recreational yards, which are highly controlled to avoid contact with opposing gang members, enemies, etc. Maintaining limited contact between inmates and staff provides greater control, maintains safety, and is much less expensive than attempting to sustain that same control and safety with significantly greater contacts between inmates and prison officials. Thus, providing sufficient control of the inmates in a working environment and maintaining the safety of other inmates and prison staff would be both extremely expensive and impractical.

If prisons are compelled to force inmates to work, the result would be more costs to the prison, deaths, and injuries. Any such work programs would likely have to be limited to one or two prisons specifically designed for inmates having been sentenced to prison for life and require significantly greater security procedures to accommodate the requirements that the inmates work. As a consequence, the prison costs for life-without-parole sentences would be much greater than those existing under the death penalty and would continue for the life of the inmate. As a result of the work requirement, SAFE’s comparison of costs attempting to show that incarcerating death-row inmates is higher is made meaningless. Under the SAFE Act, the costs of incarcerating these inmates would be well above the existing incarceration costs on death row.

Another irony is that the state has no further penalty for these inmates for killing another inmate, guard, or prison official. There would be no death penalty. Thus, while the dangers of violence are seriously increased because of the increased contacts between inmates and other inmates and other inmates and prison officials, the penalty for committing another murder would be no greater than the sentence they already have. In addition to the former death-row inmates, the loss of the deterrent value of the death penalty as a disincentive for murder would apply to every prisoner already sentenced to life in prison without the opportunity for parole, as well as those whose chance of parole are negligible such as Charles Manson.

Finally, the rate of pay for these workers would be negligible–providing very little money for their victims. Again, the SAFE Act makes hollow promises of aiding victims while increasing risks of violence and increasing the overall costs of incarcerating these inmates.

“Full Enforcement” or Bribing Voters with More Hollow Promises?

The last acronym claims “full enforcement,” arguing that the Act “takes $30 million a year for three years in budget savings and puts it into the investigation of unsolved rape and murder cases.” Footnote (How this applies to “full-enforcement” is not explained.) Again, this very short-term incentive with very little overall impact, particularly relative to the repercussions of removing the most significant disincentive and ultimate accountability for committing murder.

For example, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department operates a budget of $2.4 billion, which funds “nearly 18,000 budgeted sworn and professional staff.” Footnote Thus, if the entire $30 million was given to that single law enforcement department, it would increase their budget by only 1.5 percent. If this money is spread throughout California to various city police departments and county sheriff’s departments, the amount would amount to nothing but a token contribution. Consequently, the negligible amount of money would have absolutely no affect on solving rape and murder cases.

Treating California Voters Like Sheep, SAFE Proponents Misrepresent or Ignore Polling Data

Proponents of the ballot measure wish voters to feel that they are on the “winning side” if they vote for it. Then, like sheep, the voters are expected to follow each other and approve the ballot measure. In order to make this claim, however, it is necessary to misrepresent and ignore the critical evidence against there claim.

Many of these misrepresentations are premised from a poll conducted by the Field Research Corporation, “The Independent and Non-Partisan Survey of Public Opinion,” located in San Francisco. Footnote Based upon that survey, the ballot proponents argue that “A clear majority of U.S. voters – 61 percent – would choose a punishment other than death for murder if given a choice.” Footnote The statement is erroneous on two counts. First, the poll results were for California registered voters only, not all of U.S. voters. Second, the 61% figure was for party registered Democrats. Only 37% of party registered Republicans and only 43% of “non-partisans/others” would “personally prefer” life in prison without parole. Footnote More importantly, the report from this poll explained:


Over the course of more than five decades The Field Poll has consistently found substantial public support in California for keeping the death penalty as a form of punishment for certain capital crimes.


At present, 68% of voters favor retaining the death penalty for serious crimes, 27% favor doing away with it, while 5% have no opinion. There has been no appreciable change in this division of sentiment over the past fifteen years. Footnote

In fact, in September 2011, the voter opinion toward keeping the death penalty was higher than it was in 2000 (63%) and the percentage since then has ranged between 63% and 72% for registered California voters. Footnote In addition, “very large majorities of both Republicans (81%) and non-partisans (70%) support keeping the death penalty as a punishment alternative. But, a smaller majority of Democrats (57%) also favors its continuation.” Footnote Clearly, those in favor of abolishing the death penalty are not in the majority and their efforts to convince voters to join their “winning side” are based upon false statements.

Unsurprising, the efforts to abolish the death penalty remain a liberal agenda:


Conservatives are overwhelming in their support of the death penalty (84% to 12%). Those who identify as middle-of-the-road in politics also favor keeping it two and one-half to one (69% to 27%). Liberals are the only voting subgroup in which the proportion who want to do away with the death penalty (49%) is greater than the proportion who want it maintained (46%). Footnote

A more recent poll further establishes California voter’s firm conviction and support for the death penalty. A Survey USA News Poll was conducted in March 2012. The results of this poll concluded:


By 2:1, CA Voters Back Death Penalty: 61% of registered voters from the state of California say they would vote to keep the death penalty, should a death penalty initiative appear on the November 2012 ballot, according to this latest SurveyUSA poll conducted exclusively for KGTV-TV San Diego, KPIX-TV San Francisco, KFSN-TV Fresno, and KABC-TV Los Angeles. 29% say they would vote to eliminate the death penalty. Keeping the death penalty law in California is supported by a majority among all groups except liberals, who are divided. Footnote

This more recent poll, which directly refutes what the proponents of SAFE would have voters believe, has received no attention from the liberal media.

In early August 2012, the California Business Roundtable and Pepperdine University School of Public Policy released the second round of results in their bi-monthly initiative survey series leading up to the November election. Those results indicate that support for the Safe Act has “plummeted.” The findings were that "'support for Prop 34, which would repeal California's death penalty, fell from 45.5% to 35.9%. While you can't be completely certain, the major decline in support for Prop 34 likely reflects a public response to the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado," said Dr. Michael Shires associate professor at Pepperdine University. "For many Californians, life in prison would not be severe enough for such a terrible crime.'" Footnote

The simple fact is that most California voters support the death penalty. Even those who would personally have a hard time sentencing someone to death, as they should, they still believe that the death penalty option should be available as a deterrent and as an appropriate penalty for the worst murders. A good example of this is a recent murder in San Francisco, the bastion of liberalism and anti-death penalty attitudes. As revealed in a March 2012 poll:


SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) — A majority of San Franciscans want prosecutors to seek the death penalty against Binh Thai Luc, a Vietnam native accused of murdering five people inside a home in the city’s Ingleside neighborhood near City College, according to a KPIX-TV CBS 5 poll released Wednesday night.


While District Attorney George Gascon has said he is “unlikely” to seek the death penalty in the case, the CBS 5 poll found 56 percent of San Francisco residents surveyed believed that he should pursue the death penalty against the 35-year-old Luc. Only 33 percent didn’t want to see the death penalty sought; 11 percent were unsure. Footnote

Democrats Responsible for Increased Number of Inmates on Death Row

The existing death penalty law was passed in California in 1977. Part of that law required that certain “special circumstances” exist which made the murder particularly heinous before a killer could be considered for the death penalty. While initially there were five special circumstances, that number slowly increased to nineteen. Ballot proponents argue that since 1977, “the number of ‘special circumstances’ that allow the death penalty has increased, largely because it is politically expedient to author a bill enlarging the number of ‘special circumstances’ that would justify the death penalty.” Footnote Once again, the liberals complain about the results of their own actions to justify the need to abolish the death penalty. “Both chambers of the California legislature have been dominated by the Democratic Party since 1959 except in 1969 to 1971 when the Republican Party held both chambers and from 1994 to 1996, when they briefly held a majority in the Assembly.” Footnote They created the special circumstances. They have the political power to limit them. If there is a problem, as complained about by SAFE, then the same liberals who caused it should fix it.

Claims of Executing the Innocent Untrue Under California’s Death Penalty

Ballot proponents also argue, “The tipping point that has finally changed public opinion[ Footnote ] is that recent accounts have shown that innocent people have died and will continue to die . . ..” Footnote (As detailed above, there has been no change in public opinion.)

Moreover, “A small majority of Californians (52%) maintains innocent people are executed so rarely that it is unimportant consideration to them when weighing the issue. This compares to 39% who say this happens too often and that there is no way to correct these mistakes.” Footnote

The examples cited by SAFE proponents of convictions of innocent people sentenced to death are not California cases. The “Findings and Declarations” for the SAFE Act claim “More than 100 innocent people have been sentenced to death in this country and some innocent people have actually been executed. They cannot provide any examples for California. Instead, their only example is that of Cameron Todd Willingham. This was a Texas case. More importantly, it was never established that Willingham was innocent and claims of his innocence are highly contentious. Footnote This does not prevent SAFE, however, from making the allegation.

SAFE has failed to allege that even one person on California’s death row is innocent. In fact, the brochure prepared to convince voters to abandon the death penalty, “A Taxpayer’s Guide to the California Death Penalty,” goes into excruciating detail to explain the lengthy process that goes into ensuring that the innocent people are not sentenced to death. Footnote

SAFE proponents attempt to confuse voters by listing several individuals who were “established” innocent after having been convicted. Footnote The courts did not “establish” innocence, however. Instead, the convictions were overturned because of legal errors. More importantly, none of these examples are applicable to those on California’s death row because they were either not California convictions or, in most cases, the death penalty was never pursued against them so they were never at risk of being executed while “innocent.” They serve only as examples of the benefits of the appellate process to ensure innocent people are released.

The first person listed by SAFE is Maurice Caldwell. He was sentenced on second degree murder charges and obviously never sentenced to death. Those who are sentenced to death have significantly greater opportunities to have their convictions reviewed to ensure they are not innocent. Those sentenced to life without the opportunity for parole will never have those safeguards. However, Caldwell was not “proved . . . actually innocent,” nor was the prosecution’s witness determined to have been lying. These were the allegations of the defense attorneys. Instead, the court overturned Caldwell’s convictions on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel, i.e., his attorney didn’t defend Caldwell as diligently as he was required to do so under the law. The prosecution refiled the murder charges, but was unable to pursue a second trial because of the death of the primary witness and the destruction of evidence by the court. Footnote

Obie Anothony, another person listed on SAFE’s website, was never sentenced to death because the prosecutor did not pursue it. He was not provided with the extra protections of a death penalty trial. Moreover, he was not determined to have been “innocent” as claimed by SAFE. Instead, his conviction was reversed because “the prosecution’s key witness, a pimp, lied to the jury.” He could still be retried for the murder. Footnote

Nor was Franky Carrillo sentenced to death. His “innocence” was never established. In fact, the judge overturning his murder conviction “did not address whether Carrillo was innocent but concluded that the recantations and other evidence undermined confidence in the jury's verdict.” Footnote

Similarly, Gloria Killian’s murder conviction was overturned because of legal errors committed in her prosecution. As the district attorney maintained, Killian “is not actually innocent of the crimes for which she was convicted.” Footnote

Finally, Arthur Carmona wasn’t even convicted of murder, but received a sentence of twelve years for a string of robberies. He was killed after being released from prison.

SAFE is unable to point to California cases where a death-row inmate has been proved innocent. Instead, they admit, “Death penalty trials require a long, deliberate process to guard

against a fatal miscarriage of justice.” Footnote

Furthermore, one of the liberal’s icon, California’s Governor Jerry Brown, does not believe that innocent people are on death row in California. He explained in a debate in 2010, that the death penalty is “working according to the Constitution to the United States, I can tell you that. That requires highly competent counsel and expert witnesses to be hired and all the rest of it.” Footnote Governor Brown added, “As Attorney General, I think the representation was good. I think people have gotten exquisite due process in the state of California. It goes on for 20 or 25 years and to think that they’ve missed anything like they have in some other states, I have not seen any evidence of it. None. I know people say, ‘Oh, there have been all these innocent people,’ Well, I have not seen one name on death row that’s been told to me.” Footnote

Costs of Incarceration of Prisoner’s For Life Far Exceed That of Death Row

Those against the death penalty erroneously claim that the death penalty costs “more than a lifetime of incarceration in any prison in America.” Footnote

“According to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, expenses related to the death penalty costs the state $137 million per year.” Footnote SAFE argues that “by replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole, California taxpayers would save well over $100 million every year.” Footnote From that number, they jump to the conclusion that by replacing the death penalty, “we would save the state $1 billion in five years.” Footnote Even assuming the accuracy of the $137 million, in five years that adds to $675 million, not a billion. Using SAFE’s $100 million per year, they have doubled the annual cost to derive the one billion dollars.

Subsequently, SAFE has derived another set of numbers, for which it provides no support, arguing that the true cost is $184 million. Almost half of this amount, $72 million, is the alleged additional cost for “death row housing.” Footnote As detailed above, if inmates are forced to work, this cost would only increase, not be reduced to the cost of life-sentence inmates.

SAFE explains that “death row inmates [are] housed alone instead of 2-3 to a cell” and require “a higher level of security.” Footnote Implied therein is the argument that these men serving on death row could be housed 2-3 in a cell once the death penalty has been removed. Additional security measures could be disregarded. What a slap in the face to the jurors who do not take sentencing a person to death lightly. Despite the hardship in making such a finding, these jurors have found those sentenced to death too dangerous and too undeserving to live the rest of their lives in prison. Now, SAFE wants to save money by having them share cells with other inmates and reduce the security requirements for them. Either prisons will recognize the absurdity of making these changes and there will be no cost savings, or there will be cost-saving changes made that will only lead to more violence and death in our prisons. It must be remembered, under SAFE, these men are already sentenced to the maximum sentence they can received. No matter how many inmates or guards they kill, they cannot be executed and will still spend the identical amount of time in prison.

The total taxpayer cost of prisons in California for 2010 was $7,932,388,000. Footnote The average taxpayer costs per inmate is $47,421. Footnote Most of these inmates are young and not serving life sentences. SAFE ignores the fact that these costs increase significantly as an inmate ages and begins to have significant mental and physical health problems. “In California, . . . one-third of the annual per capita cost of each inmate is for medical, mental health, and dental care.” Footnote These additional costs over the lifetime of an inmate will far exceed the costs on death row from the time of sentence until the time of execution, particularly once these executions resume.

In 2001 it was reported that “Current estimates are that it will cost $1.5 million to incarcerate an elderly prisoner for the minimum 25 years, in part due to the fact that elderly inmates will require more expenditures for health care and other needs than a younger prisoner.” Footnote

Another report indicates:


From 1998 to 2001, state corrections budgets grew an average of eight percent annually, outpacing overall state budgets by 3.7 percent. During that same three-year period, corrections health care costs grew by ten percent annually and comprised ten percent of all corrections expenditures. Alarmingly, recent spikes in corrections health care costs are a leading factor driving growth in corrections. Unchecked, these costs will surely plague cash-strapped states for years to come.” Footnote

“Inmate lifestyles prior to and during their terms of incarceration make them one of the unhealthiest populations in the nation. . . . [T]here are a host of factors identified as the main contributors to the rise in corrections health care costs:


• Communicable and Chronic Diseases;

                        • Mental Illnesses;

                        • Elderly Inmates;

                        • Substance Abuse and Treatment; and

                        • Prescription Drug Costs. Footnote

Mental illnesses and prescription drug costs will obviously only increase as inmates grow older. As explained in one study, “Elderly inmates, those who are 50 years of age or older, . . . represents a significant expense when compared to younger inmates because of their susceptibility to chronic physical and mental conditions. In fact, according to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 1997, inmates 45 years and older were almost twice as likely to suffer from medical problems other than injury and physical or mental impairment.” Footnote



Older prisoners, even if they are not suffering illness, can find the ordinary rigors of prison particularly difficult because of a general decline in physical and often mental functioning which affects how they live in their environments and what they need to be healthy, safe, and have a sense of well-being. In addition to the memory loss and other ordinary cognitive impairments that can come with aging, older prisoners sooner or later will develop:


[D]ecreased sensory acuity, muscle mass loss, intolerance of adverse environmental conditions, dietary intolerance and general vulnerability [which] precipitate collateral emotional and mental health problems. As a senior official with the California Prison Health Care Services explained to Human Rights Watch:


Age by itself is not the same as disability, but the end result of an accumulation of diseases and injuries, causing decreased ability to safely interact with our surroundings. In elders, hearing, vision and balance progressively decrease; foot speed slows; and muscle loss occurs. All of which make climbing up stairs or into upper bunks difficult if not dangerous.


Older persons are more likely to develop disabilities that require the use of assistive devices such as glasses, hearing aids, wheelchairs, walkers, and canes. As in the community, the elderly in prison suffer from falls, which contribute to hip fractures and high health costs. One California study found that 51 percent of geriatric women prisoners age 55 or over reported a fall in the past year. In the community, falls are associated with poor lighting, uneven or icy pavement, loose rugs, and lack of handrails. In prison, there are additional potential hazards, including top bunk assignments and crowds of quickly moving young inmates oblivious to the slower, more fragile older inmates among them. Footnote

The obvious implication of these problems is that “Health care costs for older inmates are much higher than for younger inmates. Current estimates [2004] suggest that it costs about $70,000 annually to incarcerate an inmate over the age of 60, whereas younger inmates cost $22,000.” Footnote While these are national statistics, they indicate a more than three-fold increase in costs per year from the ages of sixty until the time of death. Another report concluded that “Older prisoners are at least two to three times as expensive to incarcerate as younger prisoners, primarily because of their greater medical needs. Our research shows prison medical expenditures for older inmates range from three to nine times higher than those for the average inmate.” Footnote

In 2004, it was reported that problems in California with “annual costs for elderly inmates costing upwards of $70,000 and care for some elderly and terminally ill inmates costing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.” Footnote “In California, inmates age 55 or older, who are 7 percent of the prison population, consume 38 percent of prison medical beds.” Footnote

One study provided an example of the significant increase in costs:


To illustrate the cost disparity, the SCI-Laurel Highlands facility in Pennsylvania, a facility specifically designed for elderly inmates, reported an average health care cost of $16,362 per inmate for 1999. The average cost per inmate in other correctional facilities in Pennsylvania was $3,000. At North Carolina’s McCain Correctional Facility, the state spent $200,000 in one year for just one elderly inmate. This inmate received open-heart bypass surgery, angioplasty and treatment for a stroke. There were also daily costs associated with treating the inmate’s heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Footnote

“Older inmates not only have more infirmities than younger, but the nature of their diseases

and the responses required tend to be different.” Footnote As David Runnels, of California’s

Correctional Health Care Services, explained to Human Rights Watch:


In young people, disease tends to be an acute, single episode to be treated [and which once treated] requires little further care. In older individuals, disease is often a chronic, progressive process. Recovery is slower and the care of these illnesses must be over years or even a lifetime. Surgery, medications, therapy, and multiple types of medical providers and specialists are involved. Hospitalizations, nursing home stays, and procedures are needed. All this must be coordinated to provide good care. . . . We have seen the elderly population grow from 2% to a projected 10% by 2013. This growth requires that we reconfigure the existing system and make both physical plant and clinical services delivery changes to accommodate the specialized needs of the elderly population. Footnote

A more recent study published by the California State Auditory, titled “California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: Inmates Sentenced Under the Three Strikes Law and a Small Number of Inmates Receiving Specialty Health Care Represent Significant Costs,” reported the following:

Our review of California's increasing prison cost as a proportion of the state budget and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's (Corrections) operations revealed the following:


                      Inmates incarcerated under the three strikes law (striker inmates):

                                   Make up 25 percent of the inmate population as of April 2009.

                                   Receive sentences that are, on average, nine years longer-resulting in about $19.2 billion in additional costs over the duration of their incarceration.

                                   Include many individuals currently convicted for an offense that is not a strike, were convicted of committing multiple serious or violent offenses on the same day, and some that committed strikeable offenses as a juvenile.

                      Inmate health care costs are significant to the cost of housing inmates. In fiscal year 2007-08, $529 million was incurred for contracted services by specialty health care providers. Additionally:

                                  30 percent of the inmates receiving such care cost more than $427 million.

                                  The costs for the remaining 70 percent averaged just over $1,000 per inmate.

                                  The costs for those inmates who died during the last quarter ranged from $150 for one inmate to more than $1 million for another.

●A significant portion of the increased workload due to medical guarding and transportation is covered through overtime.

●The large leave balances of custody staff, to which the furlough program has contributed a significant amount, will eventually cost the State from $546 million to more than $1 billion. Footnote

            This study is now being used to support another liberal ballot measure to weaken the three strikes law in California. Footnote Accordingly, the liberals wish to release convicts earlier who having been convicted of two violent felonies and a third non-violent felony to save money from having to care for all of the elderly inmates, and then increase that same population with individuals who have been sentenced to death, or who later commit crimes that would have led to a death sentence. (Meanwhile they want to take away everyone’s guns.) It’s getting downright scary in California.

Cost of Appeals Ensures Accuracy of Convictions

SAFE also asserts that in 2010 California “spent $58 million total on reviewing death penalty cases” from using the resources of the Office of the State Public Defender, the Habeas Corpus Resource Center, the California Appellate Project, the Office of the Attorney General, and the California Supreme Court. Footnote “The California Legislature created the Office of the State Public Defender in 1976 to represent indigent criminal defendants on appeal.” Over the years the agency has focused its resources on post-conviction death penalty cases. Footnote Should the death penalty be eliminated, there is no indication that the funds of the Office of the State Public Defender would simply be diverted back to appeals in non-death penalty cases. Thus, there would be no savings.

The Habeas Corpus Resource Center and the California Appellate Project are paid from funds from the California Supreme Court. The budget for the California Judiciary was $3.6 billion in fiscal year 2012. Footnote Where the court and it’s related entities account for approximately $29 million of the $58 million, Footnote this $29 million accounts for about eight-tenths of one percent of the court’s $3.6 billion budget. Overall, the $58 million dollars is inexpensive to the extent it ensures that California does not execute an innocent person, the death penalty serves as a strong deterrent to murder, particularly once it is used as intended, and the elimination of the death penalty would not provide significant savings, particularly in light of the state’s $10-12 billion budget deficit for 2012.

Some Delay is Necessary to Ensure Accuracy and Existing Delay Will be Removed

“The average delay in California between the time someone is given a death penalty sentence and

when an execution actually takes place is now averaging more than 25 years.” Footnote Some of this delay is due to California’s efforts to ensure that innocent individuals are not executed, something SAFE admits would not be a good thing.

Importantly, it is the exact same individuals who brag about having caused legislative and judicial delays in the executions who now attempt to use those delays and costs as an excuse to abandon the death penalty in California. The best answer is, of course, to follow the clear wishes of California voters and follow the law. The last set of delays were contrived in that the defense argued that the three-drug cocktail that was part of the execution protocol was cruel and unusual. Jerry Brown, as Attorney General and then as Governor, chose to fight for the existing protocol rather than simply change it to a one-drug protocol as used in other states. The obvious intent was that both the defense and the state officials were colluding to delay executions.

Unexpectedly in April 2012, Gov. Brown ordered prison officials to consider a single-drug method of execution, explaining “My administration is working to ensure that California’s laws on capital punishment are upheld.” Footnote Accordingly, efforts are being pursued to remove the final cog in the wheel of justice so that executions can resume without the delay that has occurred since the 2006 issue with the drugs used arose.


Deterrence Value is Real

Ballot proponents also claim “The death penalty does not deter crime.” Footnote This bald claim is not only unprovable, but defies common sense. As the poet Hyman Barshay adeptly explained, “The death penalty is a warning, just like a lighthouse throwing its beams out to sea. We hear about shipwrecks, but we do not hear about the ships the lighthouse guides safely on their way. We do not have proof of the number of ships it saves, but we do not tear the lighthouse down.”

Liberals assert that the death penalty is not effective because it isn’t used. Once again, the liberals setup the system whereby the process takes time, challenge the death penalty at each stage, and then argue that the delays make it ineffective. The answer is not abolition but enforcement of the law. Under the same argument, the “green” movement would place stop signs on our streets every ten feet and then propose banning cars because no one could reasonably drive anywhere anymore.

One professor has noted, “If we execute murderers and there is in fact no deterrent effect, we have killed a bunch of murderers. If we fail to execute murderers, and doing so would in fact have deterred other murders, we have allowed the killing of a bunch of innocent victims. I would much rather risk the former. This, to me, is not a tough call.” Footnote