The Yes on 34 campaign has been quick to recognize California’s Legislative Analyst’s assessment of the potential fiscal benefits of eliminating the death penalty. As mentioned in the report,
“In total, the measure would result in net savings to state and local governments related to murder trials, appellate litigation, and state corrections. These savings would likely be about $100 million annually in the first few years, growing to about $130 million annually thereafter.”
Proponents also cite the fact that only 14 individuals have been executed under the death penalty since it was enacted in 1978, which the LAO substantiates.
“Currently, the proceedings that follow a death sentence can take a couple of decades to complete in California…Since the current death penalty law was enacted in California in 1978, around 900 individuals have received a death sentence. Of these, 14 have been executed, 83 have died prior to being executed, and about 75 have had their sentences reduced by the courts.”
Opponents are less concerned with numbers, opting for a more emotional appeal to voters. ‘The Case Against Prop 34’ released by Vote No on 34, features Kermit Alexander, former San Francisco 49ers corner back, recounting the heart-wrenching killing of his mother, sister and two nephews by Tiequon Cox, currently sentenced to death in San Quinten State Prison. Alexander offers his plea for justice,
“I sound bitter because I am. I pray daily that I won’t live my life that way, but today and yesterday it’s all been brought back to me. And it’s hard to stand here and be civil when I have to remember talking to my sisters, over the phone yesterday, and listening to them cry… I’m here for the right reason, that they need to be done away with, those who have been tried through the system, they need to be held accountable.”
Proposition 34 advocate, Jeanne Woodford, the former Warden at San Quinten Prison, told Reason TV, “It takes so many years for inmates to exhaust their legal appeals. Inmates sit on death row while we spend millions and millions of dollars on each of their cases.” The No on 34 campaign agrees with Prop 34 supporters that the review process for death-row inmates is ineffective, spurring the moniker ‘Mend It, Don’t End It.’ Yet, opponents of Prop 34 still see the death penalty as the only means to deter violent crime in the state and ensure justice to families affected by murder. When it comes to violent crime prevention, however, the report was unable to calculate the potential fiscal impact of Proposition 34’s effect on the murder rate.
There is some consensus that California’s death-row appeals process is draining state resources, but California voters will need to weigh Proposition 34’s financial benefits against emotional closure that families often seek regarding a lost loved one. Though agreement on the LAO Proposition 34 report recognizes the need for legal reform, the main schism between each side lies in the perceived effectiveness of the death penalty.