|Guest Commentary: The Truth About The Death Penalty|
|Written by Administrator|
|Thursday, 26 July 2012 05:03|
By Tracie Olson
I am writing as the Public Defender of Yolo County. Contrary to District Attorney Jeff Reisig's recent opinion piece, there are numerous, overwhelming reasons to oppose the death penalty, and none involve dishonoring victims.
INNOCENT PEOPLE HAVE BEEN SENTENCED TO DEATH AND EXECUTED.
District Attorney Jeff Reisig laments the "endless delays in the criminal justice system, frivolous appeals, and a mountain of misinformation" caused by the "ACLU and its agents." However, he conveniently ignores the fact that the National Registry of Exonerations has recorded over 920 exonerations across the United States since 1989, more than 100 of which had been sentenced to death.
Kirk Bloodsworth was the first American to be freed from death row as a result of exoneration by DNA fingerprinting. Ray Krone is the 100th American to have been sentenced to death and later exonerated. For those exonerated of murder, the biggest problem is perjury, usually by a witness who claimed to have witnessed the crime or participated in it. False confessions, witness misidentification, junk science, and prosecutorial and police misconduct are other significant reasons that result in incarcerating the innocent.
A handful of Americans have been exonerated posthumously. Many believe that Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in 2004 for the arson death of his three daughters, will likely be another, as arson experts have all but debunked the evidence that convicted him at trial. At least ten more have been identified as executed but probably innocent.
I doubt anyone could defend the notion that the long legal processes that freed these innocent people were frivolous. Indisputably, those exonerated posthumously did not receive due process of the law, and the established checks and balances of the criminal justice system irrevocably failed them. Speaking to the French Chamber of Deputies in 1830, years after having witnessed the excesses of the French Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette said, "I shall ask for the abolition of the punishment of death until I have the infallibility of human judgment demonstrated to me."
ELIMINATING THE DEATH PENALTY WILL SAVE TAXPAYERS MONEY.
In 2011, U.S. 9th Circuit Judge Arthur L. Alarcon (who does not oppose the death penalty) and Loyola Law School professor Paula Mitchell (who favors abolition) released a study which concluded that the death penalty has cost Californians over $4 billion since 1978. They found that capital cases often cost 10 to 20 times more to litigate than murder trials that don't involve the death penalty. They found that the cost of automatic appeals and state habeas corpus petitions in capital cases in California was $58 million in 2010 alone. Importantly, this figure excludes the cost of providing counsel in federal proceedings, where nearly every condemned inmate whose state claims have been denied seeks relief (and where federal courts grant relief - in the form of a new guilt trial or a new penalty trial - in roughly 70% of the cases they reviewed). Additionally, they found that Californians spent an estimated additional $70 million in 2010 just to house condemned inmates on death row.
Alarcon and Mitchell's findings mirrored those made in 2008 by the California Commission of Fair Administration of Justice - a 22-member commission created by the state Senate. Likewise, the Legislative Analyst's Office 2011 report concluded that eliminating the death penalty would result in net savings to taxpayers due to savings in trial costs, appellate litigation costs, and correctional costs. Lastly, it is imperative to point out that District Attorney Jeff Reisig's recent assertion that a "study" by the Rand Corporation in 2008 "does not even support the death penalty opponents' claims [that eliminating the death penalty saves money]" is bogus. No such "study" exists; the study was contemplated but never executed due to time and budget constraints. The following is the 'link' to the Rand Corporation's 2008 non-report to which Mr. Reisig refers: http:www.rand.org/pubs/testimonies/CT300html.
THE DEATH PENALTY HAS NO DETERRENT EFFECT.
The Death Penalty Information Center compared the murder rates per 100,000 people among the fifty states and found that, in 2010, the average murder rate of death penalty states was 4.6, while the average murder rate of states without the death penalty was 2.9. Of the ten states with the lowest murder rates, six do not have the death penalty. Quite obviously, the existence of the death penalty had no deterrent effect on those that ended up on death row.
THERE IS NO CREDIBLE EVIDENCE THAT SUPPORTS THE NOTION THAT THOSE ON DEATH ROW POSE A UNIQUE RISK TO OTHER PRISONERS OR TO CORRECTIONAL STAFF.
Multiple studies have shown that, contrary to the public perception of their future dangerousness, most death row inmates are cooperative and manageable. In fact, studies show that demographic indicators such as age are much more related to assaultive behavior in prison than capital offender status.
THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE NO LONGER REFLECTS SUPPORT FOR THE DEATH PENALTY.
It is commonly reported that the American public overwhelmingly approves of the death penalty. More careful analysis of public attitudes, however, reveals that most Americans prefer an alternative; they would oppose the death penalty if convicted murderers were sentenced to life without parole and were required to make some form of financial restitution. In 2010, when California voters were asked which sentence they preferred for a first-degree murderer; 42% of registered voters said they preferred life without parole and 41% said they preferred the death penalty. In 2000, when voters were asked the same question, 37% chose life without parole while 44% chose the death penalty. This is evidence of what the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly referred to as "evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society." In 2002, the United States Supreme Court forbade executing mentally retarded criminals under the evolving standards of decency embraced by the Eighth Amendment. In 2005, it prohibited executing individuals who were juveniles at the time of their capital crimes.
Recently, New Jersey and Illinois have eliminated the death penalty, joining 12 other states. Today, either by law or in practice, all of Western Europe has abolished the death penalty. The United Nations General Assembly affirmed in a formal resolution that throughout the world, it is desirable to "progressively restrict the number of offenses for which the death penalty might be imposed, with a view to the desirability of abolishing this punishment." Indeed, the unmistakable worldwide trend is toward the complete abolition of capital punishment. In the United States, opposition to the death penalty is widespread and diverse. Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant religious groups are among the more than 50 national organizations that constitute the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
VENGEANCE IS NOT JUSTICE.
As others have articulated more beautifully than I trust myself to muster, I offer the following:
Opposing the death penalty does not indicate a lack of sympathy for murder victims. On the contrary, murder demonstrates a lack of respect for human life. Because life is precious and death irrevocable, murder is abhorrent, and a policy of state-authorized killings is immoral. It epitomizes the tragic inefficacy and brutality of violence, rather than reason, as the solution to difficult social problems. Many murder victims' families do not support state-sponsored violence to avenge the death of their loved one. Sadly, these victims have often been marginalized by politicians and prosecutors, who would rather publicize the opinions of pro-death penalty family members.
A society that respects life does not deliberately kill human beings. An execution is a violent public spectacle of official homicide, and one that endorses killing to solve social problems - the worst possible example to set for the citizenry, and especially children. Governments worldwide have often attempted to justify their lethal fury by extolling the purported benefits that such killing would bring to the rest of society. The benefits of capital punishment are illusory, but the bloodshed and the resulting destruction of community decency are real.
I urge everyone to learn the truth and educate themselves about the death penalty prior to November. Only by becoming self-informed will our society, as much as I do, realize that the death penalty can no longer be tolerated in California.
-- Tracie Olson is the Yolo County Public Defender.
Glad to see Tracie stand up against Reisig. He has bullied his way around and has most people scared to talk against him. I only wish she would be more aggressive about pointing out misconduct of those DA's that take their direction from Reisig and do questionable and unethical things under the direction of Mr. Reisig.
I think the most interesting piece in Tracie Olson's article is that Reisig quoted a study to support his views that does not exist (The Rand study).
On costs, you write:
Reisig needs to fact check, as well.
Of course the death penalty deters. A review of the debate
THE DEATH PENALTY: SAVING MORE INNOCENT LIVES
US Death Penalty Support at 80%: World Support Remains High