march, 27, 2012 source : http://www.foxandhoundsdaily.com
by Donald H. Heller, former Assistant U.S. Attorney & Ron Briggs, El Dorado County Supervisor
As two staunch conservatives, we write in response to Sen. JoelAnderson’s attempt to “fix the death penalty” with Senate Bill 1514. Together, the two of us supported California’s current death penalty law and helped enact it in 1978. Today, we agree with Sen. Anderson that the system we helped create is hopelessly broken. But far from tinkering with that system, we have both concluded the solution is to replace it with life without parole by passing the SAFECaliforniaAct on this November’s ballot.
We did not come to this decision lightly, and NO, we are not soft on crime. Just the opposite. SAFE California replaces the death penalty with a sentence of life in prison with absolutely no chance of parole as the maximum punishment for murder. This means convicted killers will remain behind bars forever – but without the exorbitant price tag, terrible toll on the family members of victims, or the risk of executing an innocent person. At over 720 inmates and with a $4 billion price tag, our state runs the nation’s costliest and most populous death row. Nonetheless California has carried out just 13 executions since 1978.
We were intimately involved in writing and promoting our current death penalty law in 1978. We believe that public safety is one of the primary purposes of a government predicated on the rule of law. Justice should be swift and certain. The structure that we helped create is legally sound, having withstood multiple appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. But, fiscallyspeaking, it has been disastrous. We never contemplated the staggering cost of implementing the death penalty: more than $4 billion to date and approximately $185 million projected per year in ongoing costs.
We thought we would bring California savings and safety in dealing with convicted murderers. Instead, we contributed to a nightmarish system that coddles murderers and enriches lawyers. Like Senator Anderson, our effort was intended to bring about greater justice for murder victims. Never did we envision a multi-billion dollar industry that packs murderers onto death row for decades of extremely expensive incarceration. We thought we would empty death row, not triple its population.
Having 34 years of firsthand experiences in this matter we feel the bill proposed by Sen. Anderson will not fix these problems. First and foremost, shortcutting the appeals process means risking innocent lives. Appeals are the safety net that keeps us from executing innocent people. States that shortchange the justice process have executed innocent people, like CameronToddWillingham in Texas.
Beyond the risk of executing the innocent, SB 1514 would simply move appeals from one court to another. That doesn’t alleviate the delay or the expense, it will just move it to a different courthouse.
It won’t eliminate the $1 million each county pays per death penalty trial, or the extra housing costs on death row over the general population – on average $100,000 per inmate per year – and it won’t change the fact that 99% of death row inmates in California die of old age rather than execution. History tells us any change to the death penalty has only added life to criminals, enhanced lawyers paychecks costing taxpayers more and more while appellate dates or new trials continue to torture victims’ families and survivors.
We believe that life without parole protects victims’ families and survivors at a greater savings to taxpayers. California’s best path for safety and savings is life without the possibility of parole.