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May 6, 2012

California assemblyman says "Death Penalty Needs Streamlining, Not Repeal"

A leader in the California Assembly, Curt Hagman, has this new commentary making a pitch for reforming rather than repealing the death penalty in his state.  Here is how his commentary starts and ends:

The death penalty has no middle ground -- you are either for or against it.  In November, voters will decide whether to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life in prison without parole.  Death penalty opponents are now trying to appeal to our pocketbooks saying that it simply "costs too much."

Can a price on be put on justice?  Like countless other Californians, I support the death penalty because it is the strongest statement that we as a society can make against the cold-blooded killers of innocent human beings.  The death penalty deters crime and ensures that those who have murdered can never murder again.

Opponents have put forward the argument that the endless prisoner appeals and court delays have driven up costs over the years.  But who is responsible for the endless prisoner appeals and court delays?  The very same people now arguing for repeal!  They have created the very atmosphere that they rail against in which the death penalty is too costly.  The death penalty opponents are the ones that use our legal system to create costly appeals, and these continuous appeals create the high costs they like to protest about.  A verdict, already arrived at by a jury of peers, is not carried out because of their legal wrangling....

If death penalty skeptics are truly concerned about costs, they should work with us to lower them, but that is not their real goal. The death penalty exists because of the horrific crimes committed against the citizens of California.  And the high cost of implementing the law is driven by the very people that are against the law.

I do not think it is essential or even wise for ardent death penalty opponents to dispute that they drive up the costs of the adminstration of the death penalty.  To have a truly honest debate over proposals for death penalty repeal, I think abolitionist should be content (and perhaps even eager) to concede that, unless and until they can achieve their goal of death penalty repeal, they will continue to use all lawful means to delay and drive up the expense of death sentencing and executions.  Upon making such candid statements, the abolitionists can and should then say that the ballot initiative has the benefit of allowing all voters in California decide whether they want to preserve a capital system that passionate advocate groups will always in the future try to make as costly and inefficient and ineffective as possible.

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Comments

The general public have no "black or white" stance on key issues of the day. They are not totally against or for the death penalty, abortion, campaign finance regulation, etc. Sometimes, a strong position is right. But, even there (see torture), it is hard to argue, given people even there, tend to be conflicted.

As to costs, the cost of the application of the death penalty is a result of various things, including basically that we as a society are wary about its application. From the start, more protections were supplied in capital cases. Judges appointed by conservative presidents repeatedly provide special care in these cases, including habeas, that raises costs.

If the death penalty is applied, it will cost money. Opponents help ratchet up the cost some, as do supporters who support many of the protections in place, but not enough to really be the difference, bottom line. Those who support it think the money is worth it. Money is at best a supporting argument.

"Can a price on be put on justice?" Don't you love platitudes that can be used by both sides? BTW, there is a core of "abolitionists" that will "do anything." There are others who would go along who in no way would "do anything," including in the states where the DP does not exist or basically never is applied. I welcome an "honest debate," but emotional issues like this -- as shown on this very blog -- have an uphill climb.

Posted by: Joe | May 6, 2012 2:03:40 PM

The argument is deceptive.

There are two comments and one has it right.

Diane Sampson · Top Commenter
The delays are due to a shortage of appellate lawyers. To speed up the process, the people of California would have to spend a lot MORE money to hire more lawyers or gut the appeals process. Is that what you want? No appeals? Ridiculous.
Reply ·
· Friday at 5:23pm

Posted by: George | May 6, 2012 2:03:45 PM

"To have a truly honest debate over proposals for death penalty repeal, I think abolitionist should be content (and perhaps even eager) to concede that, unless and until they can achieve their goal of death penalty repeal, they will continue to use all lawful means to delay and drive up the expense of death sentencing and executions. Upon making such candid statements, the abolitionists can and should then say that the ballot initiative has the benefit of allowing all voters in California decide whether they want to preserve a capital system that passionate advocate groups will always in the future try to make as costly and inefficient and ineffective as possible."

And this is why preserving the death penalty is important. We shouldn't let activists and judges override the will of the people consistently expressed.

As for costs, well, I can cut some right now. Set dates for the 14 in California. If we get that done this year, we can save some money.

Posted by: federalist | May 6, 2012 2:07:50 PM

The death penalty appellate business in California is pretextual. That means the arguments against legal and death procedures are really false ones, and ones against the death penalty itself.

The deception is unethical and potentially the crime of fraud of taxpayer money. Defense lawyers and judges enabling them by allowing arguments to proceed beyond the summary judgment are stealing money. They should be arrested, tried and imprisoned according to guidelines covering the amounts of the costs they have generated.

I know some members of that practice. They will argue they are defending the constitution, not even despicable murderers. That brazen lie should be an aggravating factor in their sentencing.

By the way, I found all of them charming, and nice people. I liked them all as people. They are tenaciously defending their government make work jobs. They are no better than mob union officials on the payroll for no show positions. Because they are so smart and well educated, their gross take exceeds that of the NJ mob in the Sopranos, based on real characters and events.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 6, 2012 3:00:28 PM

On the other hand, maybe those in the know suspect the percentage of the wrongfully convicted living on California's death row is about the same as other death rows. Solution? Shut them up before there are too many innocent project exonerations. The dead don't complain much.

Posted by: George | May 6, 2012 3:21:45 PM

I agree with federalist.

And I'm not sure what you mean Doug by "lawful means". Actually, most of the means used by death penalty opponents are not "lawful" and they know that. What they also know is that the "Supreme Court can't catch em all". Hence, we got the mess that is the AEDPA as push-back for their shenanigans, which has only made a bad problem worse.

Posted by: Daniel | May 6, 2012 3:31:11 PM

Not "lawful" now means making arguments in court that fail. Tiresome business. And, what, the prosecutor side doesn't cut corners too? Maybe, that's why the defense side is given so much rope? Maybe, they too are part of the "problem"?


Posted by: Joe | May 6, 2012 3:37:56 PM

Medicare costs too much. Indeed it costs so much that it's quite certainly headed toward bankruptcy. The only question is when, and the date keeps drawing closer and closer.

Therefore the thing to do is end Medicare, right?

HELLO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The thing to do is reduce its costs. That is going to be difficult, yup. The idea that it simply can't be done is preposterous.

Ditto with the DP. If it costs too much, reduce its costs. The idea that it simply must cost as much as it does now is absurd.

Reduce its costs and get on with it. This is not that hard.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 6, 2012 5:40:01 PM

George --

Why don't you name us a single innocent person California has put to death in the last 50 years.

And no, I'm not looking for the usual canned lecture. I'm looking for a name. What is it?

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 6, 2012 5:43:55 PM

Keep in mind that if the maximum penalty is death, LWOP becomes an inducement for a plea bargain.

But if LWOP is the maximum penalty, then to achieve that penalty, a trial will have to be conducted. To that end, I would imagine, say, 25 years to life would be the next highest plea inducement.

I wanted to ask some practicing lawyers about the ramifications of the above situation. I appreciate any insight into this statistic that seems reasonable to me.

Posted by: Eric Knight | May 6, 2012 6:39:48 PM

Mr. Bill: "Why don't you name us a single innocent person California has put to death in the last 50 years."

What for?

Posted by: George | May 6, 2012 6:49:25 PM

George --

To demonstrate that all the talk about exonerees from death row actually means what it's intended to imply, to wit, that we are perpetually on the verge of executing innocent people.

In fact it does not mean that, since it's not true.

When you can't provide the name of a single innocent person California has executed in 50 years, what you do is expose the hype as hype.

Now where was that name we're looking for???

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 6, 2012 7:07:13 PM

The exoneration rate is itself another pretext that applies to all human activity with any error rate. It is therefore a fraud against the court, a masking ideology for opposition to the death penalty. Those who make that argument should be arrested, and assessed all costs to their personal assets. Prison time commensurate with the cost of the fraud should apply. To deter both the DP appellate bar and judges. It is high time to end all judicial immunities, since judges are slime, incompetent, stupid, and a threat to the public safety. Even people in special ed can understand that an error rate should motivate us to do better, but cannot stop the activity. Judges apparently cannot grasp this basic concept.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 6, 2012 7:08:43 PM

Bill Otis:

It's not so easy to show that an innocent person has been executed. Is the guilty party going to come forward and say "ha, ha, you killed the wrong guy, I did it!!"

Posted by: Dave from Texas | May 6, 2012 7:41:58 PM

@Dave

And it's not so easy to prove the acquitted person is actually guilty. Is he going to come forward and say, "ha ha you the stupid. I actually did it and there is nothing you can do now. ha ha."

Posted by: Daniel | May 6, 2012 7:57:43 PM

Dave from Texas --

"It's not so easy to show that an innocent person has been executed."

Then the people who keep saying it should stop. It's an odd form of debate for the proponents of X to say,"It's not so easy to show X, therefore you must believe me when I say X."

"Is the guilty party going to come forward and say "ha, ha, you killed the wrong guy, I did it!!"

There are ample ways of proving actual guilt other than a confession.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 6, 2012 8:22:58 PM

Washington Post News
E-mail Print PDF

Convicted defendants left uninformed of forensic flaws found by Justice Dept.


By Spencer S. Hsu, Published: April 16


Justice Department officials have known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people, but prosecutors failed to notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled.

Officials started reviewing the cases in the 1990s after reports that sloppy work by examiners at the FBI lab was producing unreliable forensic evidence in court trials. Instead of releasing those findings, they made them available only to the prosecutors in the affected cases, according to documents and interviews with dozens of officials.

In addition, the Justice Department reviewed only a limited number of cases and focused on the work of one scientist at the FBI lab, despite warnings that problems were far more widespread and could affect potentially thousands of cases in federal, state and local courts.

As a result, hundreds of defendants nationwide remain in prison or on parole for crimes that might merit exoneration, a retrial or a retesting of evidence using DNA because FBI hair and fiber experts may have misidentified them as suspects.

In one Texas case, Benjamin Herbert Boyle was executed in 1997, more than a year after the Justice Department began its review. Boyle would not have been eligible for the death penalty without the FBI’s flawed work, according to a prosecutor’s memo.

The case of a Maryland man serving a life sentence for a 1981 double killing is another in which federal and local law enforcement officials knew of forensic problems but never told the defendant. Attorneys for the man, John Norman Huffington, say they learned of potentially exculpatory Justice Department findings from The Washington Post. They are seeking a new trial.

Justice Department officials said that they met their legal and constitutional obligations when they learned of specific errors, that they alerted prosecutors and were not required to inform defendants directly.

MORE AT LINK: California Innocence Project where they have a list of the exonerated.

Posted by: George | May 6, 2012 9:01:57 PM

Mr. Bill,

George --

To demonstrate that all the talk about exonerees from death row actually means what it's intended to imply, to wit, that we are perpetually on the verge of executing innocent people.

What percentage of people on death row do you think are there wrongly?

In fact it does not mean that, since it's not true.

I never argued anything about the last 50 years. That is your strawman. In fact, I never argued anyone was wrongly executed in the last 50 years. That too is your strawman.

When you can't provide the name of a single innocent person California has executed in 50 years, what you do is expose the hype as hype.

Now where was that name we're looking for???

You seem confused. Let me try to clarify. If the execution rate went at the pace you wish it did over the last 50 years, how many of the 700 on CA's death row would be executed now? Given the percentage of wrongful convictions we know about in other states, how many would have been wrongfully executed?

I of course don't know the details of each of the 700 and of course cannot specify which are wrongfully convicted, but we do know there is a statistical probability that a certain percentage were. So, given that percentage, how many of the 700, if already executed, would have been murdered by the state because they were not actually guilty of a capital offense? That is the question. Can you answer it?

Posted by: George | May 6, 2012 9:16:03 PM

George --

"I never argued anything about the last 50 years. That is your strawman. In fact, I never argued anyone was wrongly executed in the last 50 years."

Then I rest my case. Thank you.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 6, 2012 11:38:18 PM

Wow, Bill, you beat up your own strawman.

You're welcome.

Posted by: George | May 7, 2012 12:39:04 AM

i'm kind of with george here bill!

If you look at all the convictions in the us and if you Know that out of "x" number of convictions X% were overturned as innocent ...never mind the ones tossed for a "technicality" like govt criminal action....just plain old INNOCENCE!

well then guess what if you take that same % and apply it to all those executed odds are PRETTY DAMN GOOD you got one who WAS NOT GULITY!

sorry bill the math doesn't lie!

Posted by: rodsmith | May 7, 2012 11:40:34 AM

::George,
Wait a minute, Benjamin Herbert BOYLE did not kill Gail Smith, age 20, "according to a prosecutor’s memo." ?

Did you investigate this?

---} On October 14, 1985, police in Amarillo Discarded in the brush, he found a woman's naked, lifeless body, bound in silver duct tape, with a man's tie knotted tight around her throat. An autopsy discovered evidence of beating prior to death.

Stopped en route for questioning, BOYLE readily identified a snapshot of the victim, claiming he had dropped her off, alive.

1. A search of BOYLE's belongings netted officers a roll of silver duct tape, several sheets and blankets.

2. BOYLE's wife recalled that she had seen some bloody sheets inside the truck.

3. Stray hairs recovered from the corpse was also matched to BOYLE, and fingerprints, recovered from the duct tape used to bind Gail Smith.

4. He had attempted to abduct a 28-year-old in Colorado Springs, November 20, 1979, but she produced a knife and stabbed him several times in self-defense. BOYLE's guilty plea to an attempted kidnap charge had earned him five years on probation.

5. At the time of his arrest in Texas, BOYLE was also being sought for rape, in Canyon City, Colorado, where the victim had identified his photograph.

6. Review of BOYLE's extensive travels linked him with a second homicide, near Truckee, California, where a "Jane Doe" victim was discovered on June 21, 1985. Her naked body had been stuffed inside a cardboard box, her hands and feet bound up with bandages and several kinds of tape.

BOYLE went to trial for Gail Smith's murder in October 1986, convicted by a jury after three hours on October 29. The sentence: Death.
~~Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers

Posted by: Adamakis | May 7, 2012 12:09:30 PM

rodsmith --

"sorry bill the math doesn't lie!"

Actually, math lies all the time. Look at any Obama budget. But for however that may be, legal cases are not proved by math. They are proved by evidence. George has none, which he admits. Indeed, he admits that HE'S NOT EVEN ARGUING that California has executed an innocent man for at least 50 years.

Still, George might could use some help here, so if you know of a case where there is even an arguable record that some Californian who get executed since 1962 was innocent, I'm still all ears.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 7, 2012 12:33:40 PM

Mr. Bill --

::George,
Wait a minute, Benjamin Herbert BOYLE did not kill Gail Smith, age 20, "according to a prosecutor’s memo." ?

Did you investigate this?

No, what are you saying? That is doesn't matter if the evidence was unreliable because Boyle was so evil? And we base that on the so-called testimony of Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers? Is that it?

Even if all of that is true, the Justice Department itself said the evidence was unreliable in certain cases.

Would you care to enlighten us on which of those on death row are so evil that it doesn't matter and which are actually innocent?

Posted by: George | May 7, 2012 2:45:03 PM

George --

"Would you care to enlighten us on which of those on death row are so evil that it doesn't matter and which are actually innocent?"

Since it's your argument, you're the one who needs to provide the enlightenment. That might consist of, you know, evidence.

Oh, wait, you've already admitted you don't have any, and won't even argue the point.

Never mind.

P.S. It's not a one-way street, George. You can' just blow past questions I ask you and then demand I answer yours. Don't work that way.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 7, 2012 2:58:35 PM

Bill, you built an arbitrary 50 year period, which implies you believe some before the start of that 50 year period were wrongly executed.

If you cannot specify who prior that 50 year period was wrongly executed, then you are wrong, and executions were perfect throughout history.

But even I named someone in that 50 year period you would just say the person was rightly executed. Since all the DNA evidence was destroyed, it's a zero sum game, so I don't play your strawman game.

Posted by: George | May 7, 2012 3:02:09 PM

@George

"Bill, you built an arbitrary 50 year period, which implies you believe some before the start of that 50 year period were wrongly executed."
More likely he did that because comparing the justice system today to the system of 1920 or 1870 is unfair and difficult thanks to the availability of records.

"If you cannot specify who prior that 50 year period was wrongly executed, then you are wrong, and executions were perfect throughout history."
Or perhaps we cannot know for certain who was innocent 200 years ago?

"But even I named someone in that 50 year period you would just say the person was rightly executed. Since all the DNA evidence was destroyed, it's a zero sum game, so I don't play your strawman game."
So you think he won't persuaded, meaning you don't have to try? This really does not help your argument.

Posted by: MikeinCT | May 7, 2012 5:33:27 PM

MikeinCT, does that mean I have to bow to his straw man or else?

Whether or not we have proof of a wrongful conviction in California over the last 50 years is a red herring. DNA proving exoneration is new evidence and new science. If Mr. Bill provides the DNA evidence of all who were executed over the last 50 years to the Innocence Project, which as a rule requires DNA evidence, then, and only then, can we determine how many of them were falsely executed by today's standards. Notice Mr. Bill did not state what percentage on death row he believes were wrongly convicted, but he has said repeatedly that we cannot expect a perfect system. Wouldn't you call that a justification for executing the innocent?

Posted by: George | May 7, 2012 6:46:06 PM

"they will continue to use all lawful means to delay and drive up the expense of death sentencing and executions."

what's the mystery in that, money is the messiah of right wingers anyway and probably the only thing they'll pay attention too especially when they believe it's only coming from there pockets

Posted by: Tom Danson | May 7, 2012 7:28:09 PM

George --

"If Mr. Bill provides the DNA evidence of all who were executed over the last 50 years to the Innocence Project, which as a rule requires DNA evidence, then, and only then, can we determine how many of them were falsely executed by today's standards."

Your demand is preposterous, as you can't help knowing.

You write as if a court's (actually, many courts') determination of guilt is meaningless. That too is preposterous. Once a judicial determination of guilt is made, it is entitled to the presumption of correctness absent proof to the contrary. You have no such proof and attempt to finesse this fact by pretending that I'm the one has to document your case.

Well, I don't, nor could I since your "case" is baloney. You're actually crazy enough to think that you can create a roster of executed but innocent people simply by typing "executed" and "innocent" enough times in the same sentence.

The odd thing is that even if there were an alternative universe where such a thing could happen, it would be of no interest to you. You sail under the flag of supposed innocence, but your aim -- pretty transparently, actually -- is to rescue McVeigh and the rest of the unarguably guilty from the fate they have earned.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 7, 2012 7:51:00 PM

Mr Bill -- "Your demand is preposterous, as you can't help knowing."

Mr. Bill, I merely rephrased your straw man. You're right. It's preposterous.

Posted by: George | May 7, 2012 8:31:30 PM

George --

If you want to prove that California has been executing innocent people, go do it and stop looking to me to provide evidence for a proposition that (1) I don't believe because it's (2) false.

And no, I don't want McVeigh around, and if you want a system that would keep him around, fine, shout it from the rooftops. This California initiative is going down in flames anyway, but any help you can give it will be all to the good.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 7, 2012 9:03:14 PM

ahh but that's why i said if we just take the number of convictions in amarican that have been tossed because of INNOCENCE for whatever reason. Just the ones marked INNOCENT!

then take that % and apply it to the number of people killed by the state ....you can bet you got an innocnet in the bunch!

sad thing is the more there are the better the chance the state has killed innocent people! but of course WE ALL KNOW THEY HAVE! all around the world!

don't need names for that!

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