Death Penalty: Let Voters Decide

Judge Cordell is joined by four volunteer signature gatherers with six boxes of petitions from San Francisco County voters.

This November, California voters will make history as they decide — for the first time ever — between the death penalty and life in prison without the possibility of parole as the maximum punishment for murder.

There’s only one problem: prosecutors throughout the state are still seeking the death penalty. In fact, the AP just reported that five new people have been sent to death row this year.

That’s why thousands of Californians are joining together to call on local district attorneys to stop seeking death sentences until voters get a chance to weigh in on this broken system. And they are not alone: the Los Angeles Times has joined the call for prosecutors to hold on death penalty trials until voters have a chance to choose life without parole in November.

In their June 5 editorial, Don’t seek the death penalty, they explained:

We favor replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. A measure on the November ballot, the SAFE California Act, would do exactly that, and we hope voters will support it. Meanwhile, California prosecutors, in particular L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, should stop pursuing capital cases until the voters have had their say.

Local District Attorneys, elected by each county in California, have the power to decide when to seek the death penalty and when to choose life without the possibility of parole. When they choose the death penalty, they start a process that costs millions of dollars and takes an average of 25 years to resolve. A life without parole trial can be over in a matter of weeks.

At the local level, counties usually pay $1 million extra for every death penalty trial — over and above the cost of a trial seeking life without parole. That’s because death penalty trial is drastically more extensive — and expensive. Extra costs include highly-trained lawyers and judges, special investigators and experts, and additional appeals. Death penalty trials take more than three times longer than trials seeking life in prison without the possibility of parole.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Once a person is sentenced to death, their housing and constitutionally-guaranteed appeals cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more than an inmate imprisoned for life without parole. That’s a big reason why 800,000 registered California voters signed on to put SAFE California on the ballot to stop the waste and replace the death penalty with a punishment of life without parole.

District Attorneys have a great deal of power and responsibility–and so do we. We must make the DAs stop and listen so they can accurately speak for ALL the people instead of catering to special interests. Let your D.A. know you are watching — and ready to make history at the ballot box in November. Remind your D.A. to wait for the voters to speak before starting any new death penalty trials.

James Clark
SAFE CA 

Posted: Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Published by the LA Progressive on June 19, 2012
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About James Clark

James Clark is a writer for Change.org and an anti-death penalty campaigner based in Southern California.