There are two separate propositions on the November ballot that address the death penalty: Proposition 62 repeals the death penalty. Proposition 66 would speed up the legal process so that executions are conducted more quickly.
In California, people who are sentenced to death get automatic appeals. That results in years of court battles before someone is exonerated, a sentence changed or an execution conducted. That delay is unfair to crime victims and makes a death sentence virtually meaningless and outrageously expensive.
In addition, convicts on death row are treated differently than other prisoners. Those differences include having a cell to themselves and being held in an area separate from the general population.
The result is that a death sentence is not the worst punishment a prisoner can receive. It also means we spend more money on court proceedings than we would have spent simply incarcerating a prisoner for life.
We recommend a yes vote on Prop. 62 to repeal the death penalty, and a no vote on Prop. 66.
The death penalty needs to be repealed officially because it has been repealed in practice. The special treatment for death row inmates needs to go away. At the same time, we need to know that a life sentence is indeed a life sentence with absolutely no possibility of parole, whether for good behavior, illness or any other reason. There are people who need to be locked away forever to protect society.
Proponents of Proposition 66, which would set time limits on challenges and appeals, say it would end the delays and provide closure to victims’ families.
But speeding things up ignores the fact that one cause for delays now is a lack of public defenders. Where would the additional lawyers come from, and who would pay for them?
But there is another area that Prop. 66 ignores: The chance that an innocent person is put to death by the state. That chance multiplies when arbitrary time limits are applied.
Our criminal justice system is not perfect, and innocent people are incarcerated. Imperfection can come from overzealous investigators and prosecutors, and it can come from new ways of evaluating evidence. Being able to identify people through DNA has set some people free, and science will undoubtedly come up with other new methods of evaluating evidence that could find other examples of injustice.
There are evil people, and they need to be separated from society. Locking them up until the end of their lives accomplishes the goal without the expense and heartache of extended legal maneuvering.