prop 34

PROPOSITION 34: Death penalty initiative losing in early returns

Death penalty opponents saw their effort to abolish capital punishment fall behind in early returns late Tuesday.

64.5 percent of voters had voted no by midnight and 35.5 percent of voters had voted yes.

Voters in the state with the nation’s largest death row were deciding whether to repeal the death penalty. Proponents of Proposition 34 say incarceration and litigation costs are too high for too little return.

California has spent about $4 billion since capital punishment resumed in 1977, yet just 13 inmates have been put to death.

An independent analysis says the state would save between $100 million and $130 million a year by converting death sentences to life-without-parole, money supporters say could be put toward public schools and local law enforcement investigations.

“The death penalty is a giant rathole where so much of California’s budget is thrown with no discernible benefit,” said Dionne Wilson, whose husband, a police officer, was killed by a man now on death row.

A supporter of Proposition 34, she said the death sentence given to her husband’s killer “didn’t change anything. I still don’t have a husband and my children and family are devastated.”

Opponents say the argument is merely a smoke screen by the American Civil Liberties Union and other longtime opponents of capital punishment.

Promoting Proposition 34 as a budget-saving mechanism is a convenient way to achieve their goal of ending capital punishment and minimizes the rights of victims, say the law enforcement and victims’ rights groups who are waging the campaign against the initiative.

“He deserves the ultimate punishment for what he did to my daughter,” said Marc Klaas, whose 12-year-old daughter, Polly, was abducted, raped and killed by Richard Allen Davis in 1993. “The crimes these characters have committed are so beyond the pale that you need an extreme punishment.”

Klaas, an outspoken Proposition 34 opponent, acknowledged the state’s death penalty is broken because so few inmates have been executed. But rather than do away with it, he said, the appeals process should be streamlined so more executions can be carried out, especially one for his daughter’s killer.

Three former California governors – two Republicans and a Democrat- have spoken out against the initiative. One, Republican Pete Wilson, co-wrote the official argument against Proposition 34 that says the ACLU, which is pushing the initiative, is largely responsible for the high costs of housing death row inmates and the lengthy appeals process.

That the group would focus on money to be saved if capital punishment ended is hypocritical, he wrote. Repeal also could lead to higher court costs because prosecutors use the possibility of a death sentence as a way to get defendants to plead guilty to a lesser sentence and thus save costs, said Mike Genest, part of the No on 34 campaign.

Citing one study, he said eliminating that bargaining chip could lead to four times as many criminal trials.

Genest, a former state finance director, also said the roughly $100 million a year that might be saved by repealing the death penalty is a negligible amount in a state general fund that typically is more than $90 billion.

“If you’re considering voting `yes’ on this because it saves money, that’s ridiculous,” he said. “It’s either incorrect, it won’t save money or it’s irrelevant – it won’t save enough money to have any consequence.”

If Proposition 34 passes, it would be only the second time in U.S. history – and the first time since a 1964 election in Oregon – that voters have repealed a state’s death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

A total of 17 states have repealed the death penalty, 16 through their legislatures. Five state legislatures have done so in the last five years, including Connecticut this year.

A Field Poll in late September found Proposition 34 failing to gain majority support among likely voters, with 42 percent in favor. Yet the poll also found a softening of support for the death penalty overall, with 45 percent saying California should retain capital punishment. The rest were undecided.

Proposition 34 would strike capital punishment from the state’s books and shutter death row at San Quentin State Prison, the country’s largest at 725 inmates. The sentences would be converted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Opponents of Proposition 34 argue that eliminating the death penalty makes the state more dangerous, ignores the wishes of many crime victims and allows some of the most notorious killers, including Scott Peterson, Richard “the Night Stalker” Ramirez and Charles Ng, to escape justice.

Their slogan is “mend it, don’t end it.” A more streamlined process, including using a single execution drug rather than the current three-drug mixture, will speed up the process and limit expenses, they say.

A federal judge in 2006 halted executions in California and ordered prison officials to overhaul the state’s procedures, which included carrying out lethal injections in San Quentin’s former gas chamber.

Since then, the corrections department has built a new death chamber that resembles a bright and antiseptic hospital room and adopted new written protocols. Those protocols, though, are the subject of a state judge’s order barring executions until they are properly adopted according to California’s administrative code.

The last time voters weighed in on the question was 1978, when 71 percent approved expanding the death penalty law passed the previous year by the Legislature. Since then, public opinion surveys have shown consistently that California voters support executions.

Among those supporting the ballot initiative is a victim of a violent crime, J. Rose Steward. She was abducted, raped and left for dead by Dean Phillip Carter, who went on to kill four other women and received the death penalty in 1990. He is still on Death Row, and Steward morally opposes his execution.

“I don’t want blood on my hands like he has,” she said.

California’s Death Penalty: All Cost and No Benefit by Danny Glover and Mike Farrell

November 4, 2012

While many important issues will be decided this Tuesday, one stands out for its national and historic importance: In California, the future of the death penalty hangs in the balance with Proposition 34. Also known as the SAFE California Act of 2012, Prop 34 will replace the death penalty with life in prison with no possibility of parole.

The fact is, California’s death penalty is all cost and no benefit. The latest Field Poll, out Friday, shows that more voters than ever before support replacing the death penalty, and that Prop 34 is leading in the polls. The Field Poll says 45 percent of likely California voters support Prop 34, while 38 percent oppose. Of those who have already voted, a full 48 percent said they voted yes, while 42 percent voted no.

A big reason for the spectacular surge in support is people’s awareness that the Golden State is flat broke. Voters now understand that the death penalty is far more expensive than life in prison with no chance of parole. They realize that California has sunk billions of dollars into a broken system — while most death row inmates die of old age.

The costs come from special housing, special lawyers and special trials imposed by the U.S. Supreme Court to lessen the risk of executing another innocent person. And those costs really add up. According to The Legislative Analyst’s Office, a nonpartisan government agency, Prop 34 will save the state $130 million every year. A comprehensive five-year study by Federal Judge Arthur Alarcón (who is pro-death penalty) and Loyola Law Professor Paula Mitchell (who is not) showed the state has spent $4 billion on the death penalty since 1978. They’ve just updated that report to show that California is on track to spend $5 to $7 billion, over and above the cost of a sentence of life in prison without parole, between now and 2050. Five to seven billion dollars!

It’s staggering to realize that with all those billions spent, California has executed only 13 inmates since 1978, at a cost of about $307 million per execution.

But money’s not everything. The fact is that the death penalty is not making us any safer. A shocking 46 percent of murders and 56 percent of reported rapes go unsolved in California every year. California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty released a report yesterdayshowing that underfunded, overburdened crime labs with long backlogs can’t process the evidence needed to solve crimes. Prop 34 would direct $100 million of the savings into local law enforcement programs and activities, like DNA testing, fingerprint analysis, and better funding of local crime labs, so we can find the criminals responsible and put them in jail. It’s no secret that the best way to prevent crime is to solve it.

California’s Prop 34 vote has all the markings of a historic shift away from the death penalty in the United States. Support for undoing this ineffective policy in the nation’s largest and most populous state is broad and deep, and includes some surprising voices. Supporters include the lead campaigner for the 1978 death penalty initiative, Ron Briggs, the author of that original law, Don Heller, former LA District Attorney Gil Garcetti and staunch conservative Bill O’Reilly. Jeanne Woodford, a life-long corrections professional who served as Warden of San Quentin and oversaw four executions is the official spokesperson for the initiative. The Sacramento Bee even reversed its 155-year support for the death penalty to endorse YES on 34, joining 47 major newspapers from across the state.

The vote in California will be felt far and wide. Our state has the dubious distinction of housing nearly one-quarter of the nation’s death row inmates and the most expensive death row in the nation. Tragically, California leads the nation in wrongful convictions at 123, according to theNational Registry of Exonerations. So if any state could make another fatal mistake, it’s this one. Passing Prop 34 will ensure that doesn’t happen.

What’s clear is that the death penalty is broken beyond repair, and it’s time to replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole. We support Prop 34 — and we encourage California voters to get the facts and vote YES on 34 on Tuesday.

Vote Yes on Prop 34 by Frank Carrillo (Exonerated of murder after 20 years in prison)

October 23, 2012


It’s hard to imagine it being taken away without just cause. But it happens — more often than you might think.

When I was just 16 years old, I was stripped of my freedom, wrongfully convicted of a murder I did not commit. I spent twenty years behind bars before I was finally able to prove my innocence.

But I always wonder, if I had been sentenced to death, would I have been able to prove my innocence in time?

This is why I believe so strongly in Proposition 34, which will replace California’s death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole. With the election just two weeks away, it’s a critical time to make sure California voters hear about the true costs of the death penalty.

Today we’re launching our first Yes on 34 TV ad across the state’s airwaves, urging millions of California voters to replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole. With this new ad, my story will travel farther than ever before — on television.

Most people can’t imagine being found guilty of a crime they didn’t commit. I never expected that my youth would slip away in prison after I was wrongly convicted. But with this new TV ad, millions of viewers across the state can hear my real-life story and learn that our criminal justice system is good but not perfect. I am living proof that with the death penalty we always risk the execution of an innocent person.

I am honored by the all-star team that came together to help share my story of wrongful conviction with voters — including Emmy-winner Martin Sheen, iconic actor and director Edward James Olmos, Grammy- and Academy Award-winner and world-famous musician Hans Zimmer and Lili Haydn, the “Jimi Hendrix” of violin.

Also Donald Heller, the man who wrote California’s death penalty law, will be sharing his story on the radio. He explains that he never considered the costs of implementing the law and now sees it as a “huge” mistake that also risks the execution of an innocent person.

Voting Yes on Proposition 34 makes sense for California. We can save $130 million every single year by replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. This money can be better spent on education and on tools that actually improve safety in our communities, like testing DNA evidence and investigating unsolved murders. We can also make sure that California never makes an irreversible mistake.

The TV ad that tells my story is just one part of the path to victory for Prop 34. You’ll be hearing our message on the radio and seeing our volunteer teams on the ground across California. We have two weeks left to get the facts about the death penalty to as many voters as possible. We can’t do this without the help from our hard-working volunteers. Will you sign up to help Proposition 34 win on November 6? Then watch our campaign ad, and share with everyone you know.

Together, on November 6, we’ll make history.

CALIFORNIA – Kill the death penalty

October 18, 2012

In 1978, a man named Ron Briggs ran the campaign for Proposition 7, which proposed to expand California’s death penalty law to make it among the toughest in the country. Briggs was the son of John Briggs, a Republican state senator who strongly supported the measure. It was written by Donald J. Heller, a former prosecutor. The Briggs Initiative, as it was called, passed resoundingly.

Since then Ron Briggs and Heller have had a change of heart. Today they are campaigning vigorously on behalf of Proposition 34, the SAFE California initiative that would end the death penalty and replace it with mandatory life without parole.

Their goal with Proposition 7, Briggs has written, was to broaden the murder categories eligible for the death penalty and “give prosecutors better tools for meting out just punishments” and warn “all California evildoers that the state would deliver swift and final justice.”

They now realize, however, that it didn’t work. There were 300 people on death row in 1978; today there are more than 720. Only 13 death row prisoners have been executed since their measure passed—far more have died of natural causes—and the state has spent $4 billion trying to enforce capital punishment. Eliminating it could save $183 million annually.

Opponents of Proposition 34 argue that it forgoes justice in order to save money. But where’s the justice? As Briggs writes, it’s “a nightmarish system that coddles murderers and enriches lawyers.” Meanwhile, the families of victims suffer because they’re forced over and over to face the alleged murderer in a series of mandated appeals that, because of a shortage of judges and public defenders, can take decades to exhaust.

Opponents of Proposition 34 also argue that the death penalty deters crime, but study after study shows that’s simply not true. States without the death penalty have murder rates similar to, and sometimes lower than, those of states with capital punishment.

In addition, the death penalty is applied in a biased manner. Proportionally, blacks are sentenced to death far more often than whites, especially when the victim is white.

Finally, there’s the matter of innocence. DNA testing has exonerated more than 2,000 prisoners, including many on death row. It’s a virtual certainty that some innocent people have been executed. Death is a punishment that cannot be reversed.

For all of these reasons, it’s time to abolish the death penalty in California. Vote yes on Proposition 34.


Californians favor change of three-strikes law but not death penalty

October 1,2012

LOS ANGELES — California voters support easing the state’s tough three-strikes sentencing law by more than 3 to 1 but are reluctant to abolish the death penalty, according to a University of Southern California Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

The poll results come as voters ponder two ballot measures that, if approved, would make the most sweeping changes to the state’s criminal justice system in decades.

Support for an initiative that aims to replace capital punishment with life in prison without parole is trailing 38 percent to 51 percent, the poll found. But that gap narrows to a statistical dead heat when voters learn that Proposition 34 also requires convicted killers to work while in prison, directs their earnings to their victims and earmarks $100 million for police to solve murders and rapes.

Despite voters’ ambivalence over capital punishment, a ballot measure seeking to amend the three-strikes law is attracting strong support from a broad cross section, including conservatives. Proposition 36 takes aim at what critics of three strikes call its unfairest feature by changing the law so that offenders whose third strikes were relatively minor, such as shoplifting or drug possession, could no longer be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

“We’ve built this society on the idea that the penalty depends on the crime,” said poll respondent Hamilton Cerna, 31, a registered Republican from Downey who works as an employee relations consultant. “If you’re going to take away somebody’s freedom, then I feel like it should be for a damn good reason.”

The measure to soften the three-strikes law was backed by 66 percent, with only 20 percent opposed and 14 percent undecided or not answering. Both ballot initiatives need a simple majority to pass.

The USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times poll canvassed 1,504 registered voters from Sept. 17 to 23. The survey was conducted jointly by the Democratic polling company Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and the Republican firm American Viewpoint. The margin of error is 2.9 percentage points.

The propositions target two of California’s most iconic and controversial tough-on-crime sentencing laws.

The “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law won overwhelming voter approval in 1994 amid heightened public anxiety over crime. The law targets offenders who have previous convictions for at least two serious or violent crimes, such as rape or robbery. Any new felony conviction can trigger a prison sentence of at least 25 years to life.

Of nearly 8,900 third-strikers serving potential life terms, about a third were convicted of drug or nonserious property crimes.

Proposition 36 would end life terms for such offenders, who would instead be treated as if they had only one previous strike and be sentenced to double the standard prison term for their latest crime. With the change, a third-striker who would have faced a 25-years-to-life sentence for a nonviolent theft that normally carries two years in prison instead would face four years.

Inmates already serving 25 years to life for nonserious and nonviolent offenses could get a reduction in their sentences if a judge decides they do not pose an unreasonable risk to the public. The proposition’s changes would not apply to offenders with previous convictions for murder, rape or child molestation, or to those whose latest offense involved a sex crime, major drug dealing or use of a firearm.

Advocates to ease the law are making their pitch while the state is under a federal court order to reduce its teeming prison population. They hope to appeal to a large swath of voters who usually favor tough-on-crime laws by emphasizing the measure’s support from Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist.

More than half of voters who described themselves as conservative said they supported amending the three-strikes law, with slightly more than a quarter opposing the measure, according to the poll.

“It’s not fair to taxpayers. It’s not fair to the offender,” said Don Chapman of Anaheim, a registered Republican who used to oversee drivers and equipment for a distribution company before retiring.

Although the poll gives the initiative a large advantage, a 2004 attempt to amend the three-strikes law held a similar lead in polls until an advertising blitz by opponents in the final week of the campaign. That proposition lost 53 percent to 47 percent.

The current measure is opposed by victims rights groups and more than a dozen law enforcement associations, including the California District Attorneys Association and the union that represents rank-and-file LAPD officers.

Opponents note that judges already have the authority to spare a third-striker the maximum sentence. They argue that the proposed amendment removes a powerful tool that has put away dangerous offenders before they could hurt more people.

Norman Tripp, a retired corrections officer and supervising prison counselor who participated in the survey, said he believes the initiative would result in more crime.

“At what point does society say, ‘I’m going to end this person preying on people’?” Tripp, of Susanville, asked.

Proposition 34 offers Californians their first opportunity to decide whether the state should have the death penalty since two-thirds of voters amended the state Constitution to allow capital punishment in 1972.

Only 13 inmates have been put to death in California since executions resumed and none since 2006. California has more than 725 inmates on death row, the most in the nation, and they are more likely to die of old age, illness or suicide than by lethal injection.

The USC Dornsife/Times poll mirrors similar surveys finding that support for the death penalty has waned. When voters were read the proposition language on the November ballot, 43 percent favored Proposition 34, with 45 percent against. The margin of error for that result was 4.1 percent.

The escalating costs of the death penalty — an issue highlighted by the proposition’s supporters — did not move respondents. After voters were told the state could save as much as $130 million annually by abolishing capital punishment, opponents of Proposition 34 still outnumbered supporters by the same margin — 46 percent to 44 percent.

Pollsters said the overall results did not bode well for the measure and show that most voters already have firm opinions on the issue.

CALIFORNIA – Field Poll: Death penalty proposition support closely divided

September 25, 2012

BERKELEY, Calif.  — The results of a statewide survey conducted by the Institute of Governmental Studies at University of California-Berkeley and The Field Poll were released Tuesday. The survey sought to determine prospective voting support and opposition to Proposition 34.

California’s Proposition 34 initiative would repeal California’s death penalty and make life in prison the ultimate penalty for a capital crime. It would go into effect the day after election and apply to all on death row.

More Democrats and independents support Prop. 34, while Republicans tend to oppose the proposition.

Of total likely voters, 42 percent of respondents said they would vote for Prop. 34. Forty-five percent of respondents said they would vote “no” on Prop. 34. Undecided voters made up 13 percent of likely-voter respondents.

Of likely Democratic voters responding, 50 percent said they would vote “yes” for Prop. 34, while 37 percent said they would vote “no”; 13 percent of Democrats were undecided.

Of likely Republican voters responding, 23 percent said they would vote “yes” on Prop. 34, while 65 percent would vote “no”; 12 percent were undecided.

Survey results revealed strongest support for Prop. 34 among political liberals, African-Americans, voters in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, and those who have completed post-graduate collegiate work.

The results revealed opposition is greatest among political conservatives and inland residents, particularly those in Northern California outside the Bay Area.

Currently there are more than 700 inmates on death row, the highest in the U.S. No inmate has been executed in California in five years due to a legal battle over execution procedures.

The average delay between sentencing and execution is more than 25 years.

Seventeen U.S. states have abolished the death penalty.

Data reveal public opinion moving away from the death penalty in the past 20 years nationwide and in the state. Earlier respondents believed the death penalty was less expensive than life in jail without parole.

Former supporters working to overturn the death penalty contend the penalty is a waste of money.

The official analysis by the California Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance says Prop. 34 “could” provide savings in the high tens of millions of dollars a year.

Supporters of the death penalty say that changes could be made to speed the process and reduce costs.

The death penalty has been in contention in California since the 1970s, beginning in 1972 when the death penalty was ruled unconstitutional. The penalty has been halted and reinstated several times.

CALIFORNIA – Yes on Prop. 34; death penalty in state is broken

September 21, 2012

Proposition 34 on the Nov. 6 ballot would repeal the death penalty in California and replace it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

The Star recommends a yes vote.

The policy change would save the state and counties more than $1 billion during the next 10 years, and the savings would be larger in the future, according to the state’s independent, nonpartisan Legislative Analyst.

On an annual basis, the savings would start at around $100 million in each of the first few years and grow to roughly $130 million a year, the Legislative Analyst estimated. Also, Proposition 34 would provide a total of $100 million over the next four years for law enforcement agencies to investigate homicide and rape cases.

For the initiative to pass, it must be approved by a majority of voters. Californians on each side of the death-penalty debate hold strong opinions and understandably so.

The Star has traditionally opposed capital punishment believing that it is unevenly administered and disproportionately applied to minorities. DNA evidence, which has resulted in death-row inmates being exonerated, also proves that mistakes can be made.

In reality, few of those sentenced to death are executed. Since 1978, when the current death-penalty law was enacted, about 900 people have been sentenced to death in California. Fourteen of them were executed.

Six times as many — a total of 83 convicts — died before they could be executed.

Meanwhile, as of July, 725 criminals were in state prison with death sentences, at considerable cost to taxpayers. (If Proposition 34 passes, their sentences will change to life without possibility of parole.)

The costs include higher state and county expenses associated with death-penalty murder trials, heightened security procedures for death-row convicts, and mandatory and unavoidable court appeals that stretch over many years in most death-penalty cases.

Besides the enormous cost, the practical effect of these lengthy delays has been to reduce the death penalty in California to a myth. It exists in name only. The billions of taxpayer dollars spent over the past decades only kept a broken system limping along and preserved the illusion of capital punishment.

From The Star’s perspective, Proposition 34 offers a more practical alternative. If it passes, the worst felons would be sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. They would be required to work in prison and make payments to victims of crime, though nothing can make up for a heinous crime — not cash payments, not life in prison, and not even execution.

But this way, at least there would be the certainty that heinous killers will die in prison, instead of making victims’ families suffer for decades in California’s grotesque charade about executions that probably won’t occur at all.

That’s the reality of the situation in California today. It’s time to admit this expensive system isn’t working. The Star recommends voting yes on Proposition 34.