California Must Mend, Not End, the Death Penalty: Vote “Yes” on 66 and “No” on 62

On Oct. 26, 2016, The Santa Barbara & Ventura Colleges of Law will host a debate on two propositions on the California ballot, Proposition 62 and Proposition 66.

Proposition 62 repeals the death penalty in California and converts existing death sentences to life without parole. Proposition 66 offers reforms that would shorten delays between sentencing and execution. Robert Sanger, COL adjunct faculty member, experienced trial attorney, and criminal law specialist has long opposed the death penalty and will argue in support of Proposition 62 and in opposition to Proposition 66. Richard Simon, Senior Deputy District Attorney for Ventura County, will argue the opposing side. In this commentary, Jan Maurizi, Chief Assistant District Attorney for Ventura County, argues that California voters must not repeal the death penalty.

Proposition 62, which would forever abolish the death penalty in California, is a bad idea that needs to be defeated this November. Over half the money to support the repeal of the death penalty comes from a few billionaires who have no direct stake in the game. They have never suffered the agonizing pain that victims’ families go through—have never sat through a torturous trial listening to the horrific details of their loved ones’ torture and murder; have never lived with the realization that they won’t experience a hug, walk their daughters down the aisle, or watch their kids grow up and go to college—while a murderer lives on for decades being well cared for by the state.

As a career prosecutor, I have worked with countless families of victims and have seen their suffering first hand. There is no such thing as “closure” for them—they live with the haunting memories of their loved ones’ last moments and the knowledge that they will never see them again. We have an opportunity to fix the death penalty now with a YES vote on Proposition 66.

Gruesome cases deserve harsh judgement

Clarence Ray Allen was the last person to be executed in the State of California more than 10 years ago. Allen was already serving a sentence of life imprisonment for the murder of witness Mary Sue Kitts, who had testified against him in a robbery trial, during which he conspired to have the three remaining witnesses murdered. As soon as his accomplice, Billy Ray Hamilton, was paroled, Hamilton went back to the scene of the robbery and murdered the owner’s son and two teenage employees at Allen’s behest. Those who say that life imprisonment is a deterrent to future crimes should tell that to the families of these young victims.

Lonnie David Franklin, known as the “Grim Sleeper” was sentenced to death in August of this year for the murder of nine women and a teenage girl between 1985 and 2007. He is a suspect in at least 25 additional murders. Does he deserve to live the rest of his life at taxpayers’ expense while so many families will never know what happened to their loved one? His true fate and penalty has been fairly determined by a jury after an exhaustive six-month trial. Yet, if the wealthy special interests and elites have their way, the jury’s decision will not matter for Franklin and the other 750 death row inmates.

These inmates in California have collectively murdered more than 1,000 victims, including 225 children and 43 police officers. They include serial killers and other killers who raped and/or tortured 294 victims. These numbers don’t include killers who are awaiting trial or pending sentencing. They don’t include the cowards who ambushed and assassinated Los Angeles County Sheriff Sgt. Steven Owen or Palm Springs Police Officers Gilbert Vega and Lesley Zerebry just last week. It is ironic that I write this piece today as Sgt. Steve Owen, a true hero who gave his life for his community, is laid to rest.

The financial considerations are key

Many killers have sat on death row for decades costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars while family members of their victims are literally dying while they wait for justice. Those who complain that the death penalty costs too much need to understand that it is the high cost of multiple, lengthy and often frivolous appeals—not the expense of “incarceration” that drive the costs up. To the extent that these appeals go on for decades, the exorbitant costs of supporting, housing, feeding, guarding, clothing, and providing health care to death row inmates for the next 30 or 40 years pale in comparison to the costs for the actual imposition of the death penalty.

To those who argue that more than 150 people on death row across the United States were exonerated by DNA after they were sentenced to death, I say—current DNA technology helps to ensure this will not happen moving forward, and the 150 exonerations nationwide is only proof of that. There is no evidence that even a single innocent person has been executed in the four decades since the death penalty was reinstated in California.

What are the basic standards of human dignity, really?

Further, opponents complain that the imposition of the death penalty is cruel and unusual—that it ignores basic standards of human dignity and that killing is wrong. They cite the decades of delay between the imposition of the death penalty and the actual execution as one example of the cruelty, yet at the behest of the ACLU and others, California courts have delayed executions for years trying to determine whether a three-drug cocktail is more humane than a one drug lethal injection with a barbiturate. At the same time, in the ultimate irony, California has authorized assisted suicides where doctors can prescribe the same drugs for suicide that the death penalty opponents have long abhorred.

California’s death penalty is broken, but it can be fixed, and that is exactly what Prop. 66 will do. It was thoughtfully crafted to ensure due process and to balance the rights of all involved—defendants, victims, and their families. Prop. 66 will streamline the system to ensure criminals sentenced to death will not wait years simply to have an appellate attorney appointed. It will limit unnecessary and repetitive delays in state court to five years. The measure also limits what are clearly repetitive and frivolous abuses of the habeas process, where the same inmate files claim after claim with only minor variations on previously denied claims. While there are no innocent people on California’s death row, Prop 66 will ensure due process by never limiting claims of actual innocence.

If we don’t fix the death penalty now, we will lose it forever. A NO vote on Prop 62 and a YES vote on Prop 66 will protect the community from the very worst of the worst, bring a final measure of justice to the families of murder victims and save California taxpayers millions of dollars every year.