Voters across Santa Monica and the State of California will be deciding on Nov. 6 whether or not to repeal the death penalty and instead punish convicted felons with a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole.
In City Hall, council members unanimously expressed Tuesday night its support of Proposition 34, which, if passed, would indeed do away with the death penalty and replace it with a parole-less life sentence instead.
Council member Bobby Shriver requested the agenda item to be discussed Oct. 2 to put Proposition 34 in perspective.
“There is a lot of disinformation on this. This does not get rid of the death penalty. It really replaces the death penalty with a new penalty, which is this life in prison without parole,” Shriver said.
“I know many people in the state do support the death penalty conceptually (but) it is not working in the prison population. This is a way of solving that problem.”
Under current California law, first-degree murder is punishable by death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The state enacted the death penalty law in 1978 and, since then, an estimated 900 people received the death sentence, according to State statistics.
Those same statistics further show 14 individuals have actually been executed by death, with another 83 who died prior to being executed. There are another 725 individuals currently on death row as of July.
If approved by voters Nov. 6, the proposed statute would, once enacted, retroactively apply to all persons convicted of death and require anyone convicted of murder to work while in prison.
Proponents of Proposition 34 argue the new statute, once on the books, will ensure “we’ll never execute an innocent person in California” while also saving the state millions of dollars.
Meanwhile, opponents argue the death sentence repeal, if enacted, would actually be more costly than the current system. According to a rebuttal drafted by former Gov. Pete Wilson, Marc Klaas, and California State Sheriffs’ Association President Keith Royal, a repeal of the death penalty law “lets serial killers, cop killers, child killers, and those who will kill the elderly, escape justice.”
Shriver, however, pointed out that the notion Prop. 34 would mean those currently on death row would be released onto the street and potentially commit more crimes is not accurate.
“No one is going to get paroled if you vote for this,” he said. “One of the big pieces of misinformation out there is if this passes, a lot of people would be paroled and they’ll come out into the community and do more dastardly things. That will not happen.”
According to city staff, “legislative analysis estimates that State and county saving related to murder trials and death penalty appeals and corrections is about $100 million annually in the first few years, growing to $130 million annually thereafter.”
Paula Mitchell, a federal attorney who has published a study on the death penalty, said her findings show California’s harshest punishment is rather “costly.”
In the last 34 years we’ve spent $4 billion on the death penalty over what we would have spent if we had life without the possibility of parole as the state’s most severe penalty.
She added in that time span, the state has executed “a total of 13 people” while more than 80 people on death row “have died of other causes.”
“The additional costs start as early as the trial phase,” Mitchell pointed out, stating a murder trial with the possibility of death penalty generally valued at $1 million more than other first-degree murder trials.
Adding to the cost are state- and federal-level appeals.
Council member Terry O’Day said his colleagues’ support of Prop. 34 was timely, as the number of death row inmates exonerated of a wrongful conviction due to DNA evidence had passed the 300 mark last week.
“There are some of us who do not support the death penalty in concept,” council member Kevin McKeown said. “While the arguments that are being made have to do with costs, there are certainly some of us who will vote for Prop. 34 because we do not want the State of California killing on our behalf.”
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