Prop 66 - Shortening Death Penalty Appeals

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BACKGROUND:

For background information on this measure, refer to the Legislative Analyst’s Office analysis included in the Official Voter Information Guide and the LWVCEF material on Voter’s Edge California.

League Analysis: 

California’s current death penalty system is dysfunctional, extremely expensive, unjust, and contrary to evolving moral standards. We recommend YES on Proposition 62, which would abolish the death penalty and replace it with the sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole. The alternative proposed by Proposition 66 is no solution and would increase expenses, delays, and the risk of executing innocent people. We strongly recommend NO on Proposition 66.

California has sentenced 930 people to death since reinstating the death penalty in 1978 but has only executed 13. There have been no executions since 2006, and there are 750 people now on death row. This system, with its extremely high legal expenses and appeals, costs the state 18 times more than life in prison without parole would. Californians have spent $5 billion since 1978 to put  those13 people to death, at a cost of $384 million per execution. We could have spent this money on education, on rehabilitation of young offenders, on crime prevention.

The independent Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that Prop 62 would save Californians $150 million a year. It is a far better solution, providing certainty, closure, and financial reparations to victims’ families. Currently the legal process keeps families of victims tied up in courtrooms with hearings and appeals for 20 to 30 years.

The death penalty is increasingly out of step with moral development around the world. All European nations have abolished the death penalty, as have 20 states in this country. The United States is the only Western Hemisphere country with the death penalty. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer suggests execution of prisoners is incompatible with modern social standards. The League of Women Voters has supported abolition of the death penalty since 2006.

There is no evidence the death penalty is a deterrent. In fact, murder is less common in states which have life without possibility of parole: from 2008 through 2013, the average homicide rate of states without the death penalty was significantly lower than in those states with capital punishment.

The death penalty risks taking innocent life. In the United States, for every 10 prisoners executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, one person on death row has been set free. Mistakes are unavoidable and cannot be undone. DNA technology and new evidence have proven the innocence of more than 150 people on death row around the country. In California, 66 people have had their murder convictions overturned because new evidence proved they were innocent. Prop 62 ensures California will never execute an innocent person.

Strong evidence suggests the death penalty is applied unfairly in California: Riverside County has five times the statewide rate of death sentences, and residents of Alameda County are nearly eight times as likely to be sentenced to death than are residents of Santa Clara County. Juries recommend the death penalty for black defendants, but spare white defendants. The poor are much more likely to be executed than rich people who can afford expert attorneys.

Prop 66 is presented as an alternative to Prop 62, claiming to shorten the process and save money. In fact, Prop 66 is a poorly written measure that would significantly increase California’s risk of executing innocent people. It would shorten the appeals process and limit prisoners’ ability to present new evidence of their innocence. It is modeled after laws in Texas, a state that executes far more people than any other state.

Prop 66 would move death penalty cases to lower courts and require inexperienced lawyers and judges to work on these technically complex cases, greatly increasing potential errors and subsequent costly and time-consuming appeals. This measure would cause more delays by raising constitutionally significant issues and would clog courts that should be hearing other civil and criminal matters. It would end up increasing taxpayers’ costs and adding layers of bureaucracy. It could also drain financial resources from other areas such as education, crime prevention, and health care.

Major newspapers in California join in recommending Yes on 62 and No on 66: The Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Mercury News all agree with the League. In addition, advocates responsible for reinstating the death penalty in 1978 now agree it should be abolished because it is a failure that cannot be successfully repaired.

Vote YES on Prop. 62 to save California $150 million a year and keep convicted murderers locked up for life, working and paying restitution to the families of their victims.