Schwartz & Powell

Architects of CA Death Penalty Say No To DP: Yes to Prop 34

by Steven D. Powell Attorney at Law

California’s death penalty will be abolished by a Yes vote on Proposition 34 in November.  Proposition 34 imposes life without parole for first degree murder.   

Those urging the abolition of the death penalty include social progressives but a growing number of fiscal conservatives joined the fight against the death penalty in favor of Proposition 34.  In fact, the architects of the DP now question the foundation upon which it stands. They now feel State sponsored homicide is shaky at best.

Donald Heller is a lawyer who wrote the 1978 law reinvigorating the death penalty after the United States Supreme Court ruled the penalty as then applied unconstitutional.  The author of the law now opposes it. He believes it costs too much and at least one innocent person has been executed under the law. That means the State is executing innocent citizens. This law was and is known as “the Briggs initiative.”   

Ronald Briggs, whose father led the campaign to reinstate the death penalty and who worked in favor of the death penalty, now opposes the law he so ardently embraced in his youth.  Briggs, a Conservative Republican, told the LA Times “We started with six people on death row in 1978, and we never thought there would one day be 729.  We never conceived of an appellate process that is decades long.”  Briggs, an El Dorado County Supervisor facing serious budget cuts, evidently thinks we could use the tax dollars spent to support the DP to improve the lives of all Californians struggling in this economy.

Former San Quentin warden, Jeanne Woodward, who presided over four executions, opposes the death penalty and urges a Yes vote on Proposition 34.  She does not think the State can afford a penalty estimated to have cost $4 billion since 1978 to execute 13 prisoners.  Moreover, as quoted in the LA Times, she disputes the penalty’s benefit to victims’ families.  “When they meet you prior to the execution, they are looking at you with such hope, that this is somehow going to make them feel better.  And then afterward, looking in their faces, it seems like it clearly didn’t give them what they were looking for.  What is closure?  I don’t think it is watching an individual get a needle in his arm and go to sleep.”

These people know what they are talking about.  They are not armchair executioners who favor the death penalty irrespective of cost effectiveness, potential innocence or religious and moral scruple.    

This November consider a Yes vote on Proposition 34.  Apart from the relevant questions of innocence and scruples, we cannot afford to ignore fiscal considerations in the administration of criminal justice.  We couldn’t back in 1978 and we shouldn't in 2012.


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