Kill the death penalty

Simply put, we can’t afford it any longer

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.