The death penalty process in California is broken. Opponents of the death
penalty claim that abolishing the death penalty and replacing it with a
lifetime prison term will save California money while adequately punishing
those convicted of committing society’s most heinous crimes.
Common sense substantiates none of these claims. How much money will be saved
by incarcerating a murderer for the remainder of their lives when the average
annual cost of incarceration in California is more than $47,000 per inmate?
California’s death penalty is broken, but it can be fixed by streamlining the
appeals process and ending the unnecessary delays that deny justice to the
families of crime victims.
Critics say the death penalty is too costly, the appeals process is too long,
and justice isn’t fast enough. I agree, but why are other states capable of
bringing much swifter justice than California? For example, it took two states,
Maryland and Virginia, with separate judicial systems less than 7 years to
convict, sentence and execute John Allen Muhammad, the D.C. “Beltway Sniper.”
Moreover, in the past three decades Texas has executed 479 of their most
ruthless convicted criminals while California has executed only 13 of the 709
on its death row.
California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said, “If the death penalty
remains the will of the people, we need to talk about priorities and costs, and
if it still is the will of the people, then it is clear restructuring is
needed.” In 1986 California voters tossed three State Supreme Court Justices
out of office when they refused to enforce the death penalty. Since enforcing
the death penalty is clearly still the will of the people, I agree with the
Chief Justice that it’s time to restructure it.
That is why I’ve introduced legislation which aims to streamline the lengthy
appeals process for those who commit murder under special circumstances. Senate
Bill 1514 would remove the automatic appeal to the California Supreme Court for
those sentenced to death. Senate Constitutional Amendment 20 would amend the
California Constitution so that appeals of death penalty cases would go to the
California Court of Appeals instead of the California Supreme Court.
By reforming the appeals process for those cases with special circumstances,
California will ensure justice is not unnecessarily delayed. It will take the
strain off families who’ve had to relive the tragedy they suffered every five
years in onerous technical appeals, and prevent those whose guilt is certain
from getting de-facto retrials at the state’s highest level of justice, forcing
victims loved ones to stand trial again. By strengthening the process, SB 1514
will ensure justice for the families of crime victims.
No one believes we should punish those that don’t deserve it. Under SB 1514
those seeking appeals will get them in the Court of Appeals based on the merit
of the evidence they present, just as any other criminal would. Moreover, the
convicted convinced of their innocence can always appeal to the U.S. 9th
Circuit Court of Appeals.
Justice delayed is justice denied. There is no greater threat to a free society
than the weakening of its criminal laws. California’s leaders would be wise to
keep that in mind as they continue their quest to abolish the death penalty.
Joel Anderson , California State Senator, 36th District