First is the irony that the proposition is on the ballot at the same time that Jerry Brown is back in the governor’s seat and trying to sell his tax increase measure (Prop. 30). Brown brought the death penalty to center stage in his first go-around as governor when he appointed Rose Bird as chief justice of the California Supreme Court. Bird and two other justices were denied second terms when voters used her opposition to the death penalty to defeat her second term in 1986.
The second is the fair debate about whether an endlessly delayed death penalty represents a real deterrent to capital crime. Since California’s lethal injection protocol was challenged in court, no death row inmate has been executed.
And, there have been very few executions in this state since the voters approved the death penalty in 1978. Appeals go forever with court-appointed and publicly paid attorneys representing the convicted murderers. Since voters established the death penalty, 900 murderers have been sentenced to death with only 14 executed in 34 years while 83 died in prison awaiting execution. There are currently 725 inmates on death row, which requires substantially higher security levels that prisoners serving life.
Eliminating the death penalty would remove the penalty phase from first degree murder trials and include the life in prison with no possibility of parole as the toughest punishment.
Proponents of the initiative include organizations that I’m usually quite skeptical of their positions. If my initial reaction favors their viewpoint, my question is usually to check my brain. Remember, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Could this be one of those cases? (Incidentally, a former newspaper editor used that line to refer to Rep. Pete Stark in an editorial agreeing with his stand on freedom of information.)
Nonetheless, the financial argument about the cost of life in prison without parole compared with endless court hearings with no resolution for decades rings true. The non-partisan analysis by the state’s Legislative Analyst concludes that savings over time could be $100-130 million per year, but warns that these numbers could be off by tens of millions in either direction.
The other challenge is my faith. When Jesus died for me, he pardoned one criminal that was dying on a cross next to him. The Bible is clear about judging not—it’s up to God, not us. That doesn’t mean we abandon civil society, but I’ve often pondered the inherent contradictions in positions.
Liberals tend to hate the death penalty, but welcome aborting unborn babies with no restrictions. On the other hand, conservatives will protect the babies, but be absolutely Babylonian in demanding an eye for an eye or a life for a life.
The Bible I read says clearly that God created every precious life on this earth and who are we to determine we are smarter than the Creator. When it comes to the death penalty, the gut reaction quickly says that some heinous murderers just deserve to die—that’s vengeance or justice—but is it in keeping with God’s word?