More Allies for Death Penalty Repeal

A recent article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal highlights the increasing number of people who are concerned about the broken death penalty system, particularly fiscal conservatives who are often tough-on-crime but recognize the enormous economic toll that the death penalty system takes on states.

Supporters of Proposition 34, a referendum to abolish the death penalty in California slated to be voted on next month, consist of many unlikely allies, including former judge Donald McCartin, who sent nine men to death row, Donald Heller, a former prosecutor who authored California’s death penalty law, and Ron Briggs, a Republican who led the campaign to reinstate the the death penalty in California in 1978.

A 2011 study that was co-authored by Arthur Alarcón, a federal appellate judge for the Ninth Circuit in Los Angeles, found that the state had spent more than $4 billion on capital punishment since it was reinstated – about $308 million for each of the 13 executions since then. The study explains the cost results from the fact that housing a death-row inmate is more costly than housing a general-population prisoner, that the state provides two lawyers to every defendant facing the death penalty, and that capital punishment cases require two phases- one to determine guilt and one to determine sentencing- all of which is very expensive. In fact, the study found that jury selection alone in capital cases in California costs more than $200,000 above the amount for life without parole cases and that death penalty prosecutions can cost the state 20 times as much as life without parole cases.

While death penalty supporters in California and across the country often argue that the system could be reformed to be more efficient and less costly, we only need to look at the 141 individuals who have been exonerated from death rows across this country to understand why the often lengthy appeals process simply cannot be expedited. The facts show that innocent people do end up on death row, and research suggests that innocent people have been executed. Reducing appeals would only further compound this risk.

It is encouraging to see that conservatives in California and elsewhere, like Montana and Utah, and even here in Tennessee, are rethinking the death penalty and that media outlets like The Wall Street Journal are paying attention.

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