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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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Death penalty debate

Uploaded: Oct 23, 2012
Proposition 34 that proposes eliminating the death penalty in California arouses mixed emotions and thoughts for me.
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?

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School,
on Oct 23, 2012 at 9:19 am

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

I have had many questions about the purpose and efficacy of the death penalty. If it is meant to be a deterrent, it doesn't appear to work if there are 725 people on death row. As a taxpayer, of course the cost of endless appeals appears to be a waste of money--but if you are innocent, no cost seems too high to save that life. Life without parole seemingly cuts costs and protects potentially innocent people. Life without parole isn't likely going to be more or less of a deterrent to a real criminal than the death penalty is.

As for abortion, the juxtapositions occur precisely because religion and politics take a stance either from on high or through legislation. On the one hand, if a mother (and perhaps the father) make a decision knowing the interpretations of what their God expects, then they will face judgement by their maker. On the other hand, how does a government, particularly the adamant religious right, deem they should determine the issue on this side of heaven or hell? And that, I suppose, takes us back to the death penalty question.

Posted by liberalism is a disease, a resident of Birdland,
on Oct 24, 2012 at 9:47 am

liberalism is a disease is a registered user.

"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 statement above is an accurate representation of the stances that many try to uphold in this arguement. The underlying premise that was not higlighted is that innocent life deserves protection. There is nothing innocent or worthy of protection when it comes to capital criminals.

Kathleen, the 725 on death row are either stupid, mentally defective or don't care about their lives, as well as the lives of others. To turn your arguement around, thousands of others chose not to commit capital crimes in fear of being put to death....prove it's not true.

"Life without parole seemingly cuts costs and protects potentially innocent people." How so? You're saying that a 25 year old murderer who lives to be 90, with life long health and mental issues is less of a burden on society than executing the convicted criminal? Without metrics to support all these assumptions, this is all theoretical and is not supported in the real world (or even the utopian's view of Calif.)

Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School,
on Oct 24, 2012 at 10:59 am

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

I would like to believe that "thousands of others [and I would hope millions] chose not to commit capital crimes" because it just would not occur to them to do so, not because there is a death penalty.

I'm saying we'd be better off not paying for years of court battles (remember there is at least one guy still appealing his sentence since 1978) and parking the guilty permanently in some dark corner. If it saves a person wrongly convicted, that's a benefit.

This is not an easy argument for me. I think prisons should not be luxury hotels with high walls, libraries, work out facilities, and armed guards. I cannot put in writing what I think should really happen to anyone who does anything to a child--but trust me, an eye for an eye would look mild by comparison. I also think we should switch budgets for prisons and education. Getting a cell and three squares (Alcatraz-like) might be more of a deterrent; who knows. Spending more on education for all children, but particularly for disadvantaged families (where the lowest scores seem to always occur) might also at least turn the tide on the cycle of crimes. The assumption is, of course, that smarter people have better opportunities to improve their lives.

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