While running for governor in 2010, Jerry Brown admitted he would "rather have
a society where we didn't have to use death as a punishment." But because the
Legislature and California voters approved capital punishment, "we've got to
make it work."
With 725 condemned inmates living on San Quentin's death row but no executions
since January 2006, I asked Gov. Brown at a Chronicle editorial board meeting
Tuesday if California's death penalty is working.
"It's working according to the Constitution of the United States, I can tell
you that," Brown answered. No, it's not working. The U.S. Supreme Court has
ruled that the death penalty is constitutional, but there hasn't been an
execution in California for 6 years.
Death penalty opponents should note: Brown, a former state attorney general,
insisted there are no innocent inmates on California's death row.
But Brown also argued that to make the death penalty work, California needs to
spend more money - presumably by paying more for defense attorneys - and that
is not his top priority. (His focus is on passing his tax-increase ballot
measure to pay down the budget deficit.)
"It is a basic law of government that if you ask people what is needed to fix
any problem, they always say 'more money' for their particular function,"
observed Kent Scheidegger of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal
Brown must know that spending more money on lawyers won't make California's
death penalty work.
In February 2006, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel stayed the lethal injection
of convicted murderer/rapist Michael Morales lest California's 3-drug protocol
caused a sedated Morales undue pain - and there hasn't been an execution since.
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Kentucky's three-drug protocol in a 7-2
decision, but Fogel didn't budge. So it's hard to imagine how paying defense
attorneys more could end the Fogel court's stay on California executions.
For 6 years, the state has been in a legal limbo. Californians get to pay for a
death penalty without having a death penalty.
Scheidegger maintains that if Brown's Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation switched to the one-drug lethal injection procedure twice
recommended by Fogel, executions could resume this year. I'm not so sure.
Brown would not say how he plans to vote on a likely November ballot initiative
to end California's death penalty - he maintained he came to discuss his tax
But we do know what he said in 2010: In a debate with opponent Meg Whitman,
Brown made this promise: "I pledge to the people of this state I will
faithfully carry out our law on executions, and I'll do it with compassion, but
I'll do it with great fidelity to the rule of law."
It was 4 years after Fogel stayed Morales' execution, and Brown knew how
"fidelity to the rule of law" works in California. Laws that the U.S. Supreme
Court uphold in other states are blocked in California. With the liberal bench
and liberal bar acting in harmony, the law's costs go up and the results slow
down. Then the whole system just stops and no one is to blame. Except