Death penalty should go

To understand just how messed up California’s death-penalty system is, consider this: More people sentenced to death have died of natural causes than have been executed.

Capital punishment simply isn’t working in California. That’s the conclusion of a report issued early this month by the Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, a group appointed by the state Senate to take a close look at the system for the first time since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978.

For a variety of reasons, the commission found, death-penalty appeals can take 30 years or more—the longest time between conviction and execution in the nation. Only 13 people have been executed since 1978, and they spent, on average, 17.2 years on death row—each at an annual cost $92,000 higher than comparable quarters at a maximum-security prison.

The right to appeal is essential to justice. The public insists on it in order to avoid executing an innocent person. And experience has shown that mistakes happen: Indeed, federal courts have ordered new trials in 38 of 54 death-penalty appeals, a 70 percent error rate typically due to ineffective legal representation.

There simply aren’t enough judges to hear the appeals in a timely manner, the commission found. One of two things needs to happen: Either the state must come up with more money—an additional $95 million on top of the $137 million currently budgeted—to handle the appeals, or it must drastically change or even eliminate the death penalty.

One alternative, states the report, is to reduce the number of “special circumstances” that make criminals eligible for the death penalty.

But we like a second alternative much better—replace the death penalty with life without possibility of parole. That would save the state even more money, and, in the bargain, it would eliminate the risk of executing an innocent person.

Let’s face it: The death penalty is lavishly expensive, ineffective and simply does not work. It should be done away with and good riddance.