Killing The Death Penalty

Nov 5 2012 @ 9:42am

It's a possibility for California tomorrow:

This year, California's death row will cost taxpayers $184m. What will the state get for that price? The same number of executions as last year, and the year before that, and every year since 2006: zero. 

A solution has been offered: the state's worst offenders would die in prison of natural causes, just as they are doing on death row today – only now, taxpayers would save $130m a year. That is Proposition 34, the ballot initiative to replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole as the state's maximum sentence for murder.

Maurice Possley points to another problem with California's death penalty: the state has more exonerations than any other state in the nation, "indicating significant risk of putting an innocent person to death":

In May, the National Registry [of Exonerations] released a report describing the first 873 exonerations it identified – including seventy-nine state exonerations and one federal exoneration in California. The Report emphasized that the 873 were only a beginning—that the true number of exonerations still is unknown because there is no formal system for recording such cases as they occur.

Ian Millhiser notes that "though death sentences remain legal in most states, actual executions are very rare in most of the country":

According to a 2011 study by the Death Penalty Information Center, 32 U.S. jurisdictions — including California — executed no one in the previous 5 years and more than half of those jurisdictions executed no one after the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Just 12 states executed someone in 2010, only 7 of which executed more than one person. Over one-third of all U.S. executions took place in just one state — Texas.

Despite that, the California initiative looks unlikely to pass:

Forty-two percent said they would vote for Proposition 34, with 45% saying no. In September, the gap was 38% to 51%, a 13-point difference. … "There is no question there has been a sharp shift," said Dan Schnur, who heads the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. The results suggest that passage is "not impossible" but still "very difficult," Schnur said.

Even if the death-penalty ban doesn't pass, California will need to address dwindling supplies of a chemical needed for lethal injection:

Companies that manufacture the fast-acting anesthetic sodium thiopental—a key ingredient—no longer produce it in the United States. European manufacturers, citing moral and political concerns with capital punishment, have refused to sell the drug to prison administrators in the United States. Now state executioners are in a desperate scramble to obtain supplies from other foreign sources. U.S. hospitals are experiencing collateral difficulties, reporting shortages of the drug. And earlier this year, Federal Judge Richard Leon ruled that the Food and Drug Administration could not allow sodium thiopental to be imported. The judge also ordered all states to hand over for such screening any sodium thiopental they’d already imported. The FDA has challenged that ruling, as have attorneys general from 15 states. A few states publicly refused to give up their supply, California included. By 2014, by some estimates, the death-penalty drugs California has on hand will expire anyway.

Earlier Dish on the initiative here.