California has a death penalty ... sort of. Criminals occasionally get sentenced to death, but hardly ever do they get executed. About 725 people are on California’s death row. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, however, only 13 people have been put to death by the state.
More inmates — 83 to date — have died of natural causes or “other” causes, or of suicide. The others on death row are guests of the taxpayers, awaiting the results of appeals, which are granted under the law. Appeals can go on for a generation. For example, one Robert Green Fairbank is still on death row after having been convicted of the 1985 murder of a San Francisco woman.
Proposition 34 would end capital punishment in California and replace it with life without parole, which is what the California death penalty now is, for all practical purposes.
Those who back Prop. 34 say it would save money — money now spent on maintaining the death row at San Quentin and on paying for years-long legal defense of criminals whom the court has said are entitled to it as long as they are under the sentence of death.
People might buy into that, but the real reason for getting rid of the California death penalty is that it’s ridiculous in the way it’s practiced. The above statistics indicate that. Why have a death penalty if it isn’t going to be carried out?
And it won’t get any better (or worse, depending on your point of view). The famously liberal U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has judicial sway over California’s death row, has done all it can to put the executioners out of work. The court’s latest decision holds that the state’s method of death by lethal injection may be unconstitutionally cruel and unusual, and that still is being argued.
But here’s a question: If you’re going to kill someone by any method, including drugs, how can that not be cruel and unusual to some extent? And isn’t execution supposed to hurt just a little?
We know the court will do all it can to stop executions, though.
So if Prop. 34 does pass, little will change.