Carsten ten Brink / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

California’s death penalty system has failed. We know the death penalty is racist in application and is used primarily against the poor and the poorly defended. It entraps and kills the innocent along with the guilty and is hideously expensive. Any of these facts should be reason enough to do away with the death penalty, yet attempts to make it meet constitutional requirements have continued for nearly 40 years.

As Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said last year, “Despite the … Court’s hope for fair administration of the death penalty, 40 years of further experience make it increasingly clear that the death penalty is imposed arbitrarily, i.e., without the ‘reasonable consistency’ legally necessary to reconcile its use with the Constitution’s commands.”

California’s 38-year attempt to make the death penalty constitutional has left us with more than 1,000 death verdicts and 13 executions—at a total cost of $5 billion. That breaks down to $384 million per execution. California now has the largest death-row population in the United States, with almost 750 men and women waiting an average of 25 to 30 years for the resolution of their constitutionally required appeals. As a result, approximately 10 times as many on our state’s death row have died of natural causes or suicide than have been executed.

A tragic result of this awful, grinding process is the long-term incarceration and death of innocents. Ralph Thomas, a homeless African-American man, and Dennis Lawley, a diagnosed schizophrenic, both died after years on death row before their claims of innocence were verified.

Proposition 62 will replace the death penalty with sentences of life without parole. It also will require inmates to work (which they cannot do on death row) and pay 60 percent of their earnings to a general victims’ restitution fund. The state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office says Proposition 62 will save Californians $150 million every year.

Currently, family members of victims have to relive the horror of a loved one’s murder through years of appellate hearings. If Proposition 62 is passed, guilty parties will be put behind bars until they die, providing finality and ending the torture endured by victims’ families. Eliminating the death penalty also gives convicts who aren’t guilty the chance to prove their innocence.

Proposition 66, on the other hand, is another in a series of lame attempts to fix an irreparable death-penalty system. The proposition imposes additional levels of appeal, which lengthen the process. It attempts to limit the California Supreme Court to five years to resolve appeals that now take an average of 12, but it contains no provision to enforce such a limit. As Proposition 66 authors should know, limiting the court’s deliberation time simply would mean making more mistakes and killing more innocent people.

Our state maintains a list of attorneys willing to accept appointment to handle appeals. Some are trained for and willing to accept capital—death penalty—appeals while others are not. Proposition 66 requires any of these attorneys, whether trained for capital defense or not, to accept death cases or be removed from the list. Forcing unwilling or untrained attorneys to handle the complex issues involved with capital defense guarantees costly, perhaps fatal, errors and ensures further appeals based on “ineffective assistance of counsel.” Proposition 66 also pretends to save the state money by moving some costs to the counties, an unfair burden counties can’t afford. Critically, Proposition 66 has no effect on the federal appellate courts, which already return 60 to 70 percent of all death verdicts to the state for resentencing, retrial or further consideration.

Vote yes on 62 and no on 66.

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