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What Would Proposition 34 Do?

Willy Nolan |
October 22, 2012 | 9:14 p.m. PDT


(Dawn Megli/Neon Tommy)
(Dawn Megli/Neon Tommy)

As Nov. 6 approaches, proponents of Proposition 34 are seeking to change voters’ minds and kill California’s death penalty.

The Proposition raises several issues about executing criminals, such as the cost of sending convicts to death row, the possibility that those convicted could be innocent and whether the death penalty deters crime and provides closure to victims' families.

The Proposition would make life in prison without the chance of parole the maximum punishment for convicted murderers, establish a $100 million fund to solve homicide and rape cases and make those convicted of murder work while in prison to pay fines and restitution to victim’s families.

Supporters say California’s current death penalty system is irreparably broken, that the measure would save the state $184 million a year and that the death penalty doesn’t serve a meaningful purpose.

“There is no showing the death penalty does anything good. It’s not a deterrent, all it does is suck in money and you would hope the public would say, ‘we can we do better with that money,’” Loyola Law School Professor Laurie Levenson said.

Those opposed say that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to crime and that it gives the families of victims closure.

“I think it is a deterrent,” Phyllis Loya, the mother of a murder victim said. “I know the one person that has never killed again is someone who has been executed.”

A study by U.S. Federal Judge Arthur Alarcon and his Career Law Clerk Paula Mitchell, which was performed separately from the Proposition, found that death row inmates and their expensive trials cost the state an extra $184 million a year.

“We have added price of trial, added price of appeals, then we have to pay for incarceration,” Mitchell said, citing reasons for the extra expense.  

“They are in single cells, they have added security, they are there for a very long time and they have the same health care only more, because they are on death row.”

Currently supporters face an up-hill battle.  Even though the “Yes on 34” campaign has received more money, $6.5 million (compared to roughly $325,000 for “No on 34”), it is trailing in the polls.

The largest poll to date, a USC Dornsife/LA Times poll conducted between Sept. 17-23 showed that 51 percent oppose Proposition 34, 39 percent support it and 11 percent are undecided.

The “Yes on 34” campaign has also received significantly more editorial endorsements.

Many of those against the Proposition are district attorneys and law enforcement agencies.

Gil Garcetti, former Los Angeles district attorney, does not share their opinion. Although not morally opposed to the death penalty, Garcetti’s first-hand experience has led him to be a strong supporter of Proposition 34.  He dismisses the idea that the death penalty is something that can be fixed.

“They have been trying to fix the death penalty for years, and they have actually made the process longer,” he said.

He is also particularly moved by the potential for an innocent person to be sent to death row.

“With 728 people there, you can’t convince me that there is at least one or two people or three people who don't deserve to be on death row, and we don't want to find out after the fact that they didn't deserve to be executed,” he said.

Garcetti noted that formally he supported the death penalty, and he is far from the only person whose opinion on the matter has changed.

Ron Briggs successfully ran the campaign for Proposition 7 in 1978 which reinstated the death penalty in California.

Don Heller, himself a former prosecutor, was the author of Prop 7.

Once again they are working together to get Californian’s to vote on the death penalty, only this time they are encouraging voters to vote “Yes on 34,” and to do away with the death penalty.

People in favor of the death penalty have been proven hard to persuade. In an Op-Ed piece, San Bernardino District Attonery Michael Ramos wrote, “You want to save money, let's start carrying out the will of the voters and putting the prisoners on Death Row to death. Preserve the death penalty.”

Levenson says the outcome of the Proposition may be based more on people’s feelings than anything else.

“I think it is an emotional response. Emotionally, some people say I think killers have to die, and emotionally some people say I don't want to be killing in the name of the state. Often times that is what the debate comes down to.”

The death penalty was reinstated 34 years ago and now Proposition 34 will demonstrate whether or not voters want to extend the life of California’s death penalty.



Reach Contributor Willy Nolan here.



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