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August 15, 2012

Former DA of LA says California "can no longer afford" its death penalty system

Gil Garcetti, the former Los Angeles district attorney, has this new op-ed headlined "End death penalty for dollars and sense."  Here are excerpts:

My office sought the death penalty in dozens of cases when I was the Los Angeles County district attorney for eight years, and chief deputy district attorney for four.  The cases had horrific and compelling facts; I had no problem seeking death sentences.  But though I never was squeamish, I now fully support Proposition 34 to replace the death penalty with life in prison with no possibility of parole.  Here's why.

California's death penalty is broken beyond repair, hideously expensive, and inevitably carries the risk of executing an innocent person.  The hundreds of millions of dollars we throw away on this broken system would be much better spent on solving and preventing crime and investing in our kids' schools.

I have no qualms with the death penalty in theory.  I do, however, object to the way it is carried out in practice.  We condemn murderers to Death Row with the hope of delivering severe punishment for their crimes.

Yet the reality is that these criminals enjoy special status.  Fan mail, private cells, their own personal television and other special privileges are not what I envisioned when I sought the death penalty as district attorney.  I am sure that is not what family members of victims envisioned either.

What's more, the costs of this dysfunctional system are staggering.  There's special housing, legal teams and a double trial process, among other costs.  The Office of the Legislative Analyst in California found that replacing it with life in prison without parole could save us $130 million every year.

We are on track to spend $1 billion on this broken system over the next five years.  All for what?  Most inmates die of old age.  We need to stop the waste wherever we can.  We need that money for police and teachers, not a Death Row that exists in name only....

Let me be clear: I am no less adamant about punishing heinous killers now.  Proposition 34 is tough justice.  Convicted murderers and rapists will remain in prison until they die, with no hope of ever getting out, and will have to work and pay restitution for their crimes.

The time is now to invest our scarce resources where they can do the most good. Fighting crime and funding education are sound investments.  We can no longer afford to prop up a system that works only in theory while it robs us of precious tax dollars.  California is ready for justice that works for everyone.

UPDATE:  Thanks to Kent's comment, I see now this companion op-ed authored by Stephen Wagstaffe, the San Mateo County DA, and Marc Klaas, father of 12-year-old Polly Klaas who was murdered by Richard Allen Davis. The piece is headlined "Ending death penalty would fuel crime," and it begins this way:

Should California preserve the death penalty for vicious murderers?  

That's the real question for voters considering Proposition 34.  It's not about saving money or preventing the execution of innocent people.  Those are political statements by special interests who have consistently fought against capital punishment.  Prop. 34 is their latest effort, complete with a catchy name and slick sales pitch.

We oppose Prop. 34 from the perspective of a father forced to bury his 12-year-old little girl after she was raped and murdered, and a district attorney who has taken an oath to defend and protect innocent citizens.

Should it pass, Prop. 34 would embolden violent criminals.  Make no mistake; criminals will take advantage of leniency and act brazenly without fear of consequences.

August 15, 2012 at 08:46 AM | Permalink

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Comments

The arguments in support of the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and erroneous. Proposition 34 is being funded primarily by a wealthy, left-wing company out of Chicago, the ACLU, and similarly-oriented trust funds. It includes provisions that would only make our prisons less safe for both other prisoners and prison officials and significantly increase the costs to taxpayers due to life-time medical costs, the increased security required to coerce former death-row inmates to work, etc. The amount “saved” in order to help fund law enforcement is negligible and only for a short period of time. Bottom line, the “SAFE” Act is an attempt by those who are responsible for the high costs and lack of executions to now persuade voters to abandon it on those grounds. Obviously, these arguments would disappear if the death penalty was carried forth in accordance with the law. Get the facts at and supporting evidence at http://cadeathpenalty.webs.com and http://waiting4justice.org/.

Posted by: Chris Bernstien | Aug 15, 2012 12:59:04 PM

Hey! Get a look north of the border !

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | Aug 15, 2012 1:30:52 PM

The article by defeated ex-DA Garcetti is one of a pair of pro-con articles. The other side is presented by San Mateo DA Steve Wagstaffe and Marc Klaas, the father of a child abducted out of her own bedroom and murdered by a true monster.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Aug 15, 2012 2:16:58 PM

@ Kent:

It's kind of a ridiculous counter-point. For example, they dispense with the worry about innocents being on death row by stating that Gov. Brown said only guilty people were on death row.

Pardon me if I remain underwhelmed.

Cheers.

Posted by: Guy | Aug 15, 2012 3:31:12 PM

Given the number and complexity of the issues and the very limited space available in an op-ed, arguments are necessarily brief. Personally, I wouldn't have used Jerry Brown to make the innocence argument, but it's a valid point. The fact that a dyed-in-the-wool opponent recognized that all the innocence claims were groundless after he became AG and had some involvement with them is significant.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Aug 15, 2012 5:04:09 PM

Guy --

Could you tell us which California death row inmate is factually innocent, and how you know this better than the judicial system?

If not, just saying that you are "underwhelmed" doesn't really move the ball. You were going to be "underwhelmed" with any pro-DP piece.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 15, 2012 7:02:16 PM

@ Kent:

It just seems to me that the op-ed you linked to had little more than a bunch of hand-waiving and invoking Polly Klaas' ghost to gin up support for the DP. Not to mention the pretty ridiculous argument that abolishing the DP means that killers everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief at the prospect of the DP going bye-bye.

I know that space is limited, but doesn't that mean you should use the strongest arguments possible, as opposed to Fmr Gov. Brown said so?

@ Bill:

I'm not claiming that any of the people on California's death row are innocent. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to even name one person sitting on CA's death row without resort to teh Internets.

Buuuut...that's not really what I was claiming anyway. I was pointing out the mediocrity of the argument:

Fmr Gov Brown said there are no innocent people on death row.

::Therefore, there are no innocent people on death row.

I don't know, perhaps you find that argument to be compelling. Would I be surprised if there were innocent people sitting on CA's death row? Absolutely not. There have been many death row exonerations lately (and at least one case where it appears, Texas, naturally, executed an innocent man), and Gov. Brown's supernatural omniscience notwithstanding, given the size of CA's death row it wouldn't surprise me in the least.

But, that's neither here nor there. My point is that it's a lame argument, especially for a sitting DA to make, especially (in response?) to Garcetti's piece, which is at least coherent. It is a lame argument to make irrespective of whether I can meet your artificial, hyperbolic, and straw-clad challenge.

And I don't think I'd always be underwhelmed by a pro-DP piece. There are good pro-DP arguments, and bad ones, IMO. Bad ones, for example, utilize the unstated premise that former government officials possess supernatural abilities. Not to say that good DP arguments will convince me that killing is the moral thing to do, but will at least give me more pause than Gov. Brown said so.

Cheers.

Posted by: Guy | Aug 15, 2012 7:28:11 PM

I think the best argument for the death penalty would be that it is a just sentence for certain heinous murderers plus various special circumstances, like murder in prison or during an escape. The usual arguments.

The idea it will do much to "fuel criminals," particularly given the data in non-death penalty jurisdictions, is one of those lesser arguments (like cost on the other side) that has less force, but has emotional weight. I don't think it would do much at all to prevent the murder involved in the co-author.

I don't think someone will think twice before killing a little girl in that fashion because LWOP is "worth" it while (if they ever get around to executing him, even Texas taking years to do it) capital punishment is not. The argument at best calls for leaving the DP open for a narrow number of crimes like murder while in prison.

The risk of executing the innocent is a matter of risk taking. Bottom line, do you think the small risk involved (likely to happen in a few cases, unless you think the government is somehow perfect) is worth it. If one is honest, the answer for the death penalty side would be "yes." We take the risk in other cases, such as some medical procedure that has a small chance of lethal results. We take it here.

Others think that on balance the death penalty is wrong. No one reason, including cost, is the reason why, though some are used for emotional reasons or because there is a sort of "neutral" flavor to them. The op-eds on both sides is pretty standard stuff.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 15, 2012 7:46:52 PM

FWIW, the authors did not use the word "fuel." The headlines that appear above op-eds are written by editors.

More than once, I have cringed at the headline an editor put on my piece.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Aug 15, 2012 8:19:05 PM

Joe:

I hear this argument from time to time from pro-DPers -- that the spectre of executing innocent people is acceptable to them in order to maintain having a DP.

So, let me ask you this, then, in all seriousness:

Are you willing to be the one? Are you willing to take the needle for a crime you did not commit? What about the lives of your family? Your son or daughter? A parent? A brother or sister? Husband or wife? Are you willing to sacrifice them on the altar? If you are willing to be the one, or are willing to sacrifice a loved one, are you willing to share this opinion with them? If not, why not?

I would also say that your analogy to medical procedures is not apt: there, we deal with the concepts of informed consent and patient autonomy. The risk is acceptable only because the person to whom the risk falls makes it acceptable via their informed choice. Our hypothetical innocent person has no such luxury.

Posted by: Guy | Aug 15, 2012 10:02:15 PM

"You" will have to be a general "you," Guy, since I'm not death penalty supporter. I said that for sake of argument.

The "are you willing" question seems unfair. That isn't how it works. Certain things have a small risk of wrongful death. We allow it in various cases such as rules for lethal force. The risk, not death after KNOWING it is a mistake. The rules are in place even though there is a chance it will hurt us somehow.

I don't think the DP as a whole is worth that risk, but if that is the ONLY reason, I don't know how compelling it is. Anyway, there is informed consent in this context too. We know how the criminal justice system works. We consent as we do to all laws.

And, the medical case can be a legal fiction since if we are unconscious etc., the consent is implied. We also simply do not know the complexities of the situation in many cases. We trust the doctors in most cases.

---

The word "fuel" is not really the point. It is the argument as a whole, the idea that it will encourage or whatever verb you want to use, crime. An honest account of the death penalty be careful not to use that as much of a linchpin, except at best for a narrow range of cases. But, it's an op-ed, so you have limited space AND somewhat emotional laden appeals. Both sides do it.


Posted by: Joe | Aug 15, 2012 10:18:36 PM

Joe:

Is it unfair? If someone is willing to accept that innocents will die to have the death penalty, why is it unfair to ask if that person is willing to be the innocent who dies? It seems to me to be the height of cowardice to be content with allowing someone else or someone else's son, or daughter, or loved one to be sacrificed to the DP gods from the comfort of your suburban lair while not being willing to be the one to die yourself. To me, the only possible extent of unfairness that the question poses is the extent to which it illustrates that cowardice -- or worse, naked and unrepentant bloodlust.

It is not an unfair question because it's going to be *someone's* child. Someone's loved one. Someone's husband or wife. Probably poor, and probably black, but no less human and no less innocent. If it's okay for them, why not you? (And, mea culpa, you is meant in the hypothetical).

The consent is implied from the best known wishes of the patient or whomever has durable POA, but the situation remains the same: there nevertheless remains choice on the part of the patient, be it in the selection of their representative, or the course of their choices. Again, the wrongfully convicted have no say whatsoever in the matter, and only ostensibly protection from the court systems. But with the rise of jailhouse snitches and plain error review, even that has failed on numerous occasions to stop the gears of DP from (at least trying to) grind the innocent into dust.

Posted by: Guy | Aug 15, 2012 11:30:44 PM

@Guy
"Is it unfair? If someone is willing to accept that innocents will die to have the death penalty, why is it unfair to ask if that person is willing to be the innocent who dies? It seems to me to be the height of cowardice to be content with allowing someone else or someone else's son, or daughter, or loved one to be sacrificed to the DP gods from the comfort of your suburban lair while not being willing to be the one to die yourself. To me, the only possible extent of unfairness that the question poses is the extent to which it illustrates that cowardice -- or worse, naked and unrepentant bloodlust. "

How is the alternative any different? By advocating life in prison as opposed to the death penalty are you a hypocrite if you're not willing to spend the next 30 years in prison for a crime you did not commit?

Posted by: MikeinCT | Aug 15, 2012 11:40:47 PM

Guy, my point is there are things in society where there is a risk pool possibility of wrongful death, such as self-defense rules where a person might be (legally) killed by mistake. We allow that & cases arise where the rules come back and hurt people we care about. We accept that risk.

You seem to be raising an actual specific case, where the person knows a loved one is innocent. Yes, putting aside one can't be fully neutral with a loved one (we can't judge our own case etc.), we should be vigilant not merely there but in any case where there is a good case for innocence.

Again, as to the patient, it is legally fictional to some extent since a patient does not actually "consent" if they are unconscious and there is not always some next of kin to consent. It is implied. The patient also does not really fully consent, since they don't really fully know the complicated risks of surgery -- s/he relies on the physician. I realize the two situations are different, but I don't think it is as different as you argue.

The chance of error was already noted -- you are preaching the choir. It is still evident that of the thousands of death sentences, but a fraction at most are factually innocent (they can be legally innocent in more cases, at least enough to not be liable for the death penalty, which to me is the strongest case against the death penalty as a whole). We are then left with determining if that is a risk we should take, like we allow deaths in a just war or is case of lethal use of firearms in self-defense. I think not.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 16, 2012 2:17:56 PM

"strongest case against the death penalty as a whole"

I meant to say "stronger case" -- that is, those cases where there is a reasonable doubt as to the level of aggravating and lack of mitigating factors that are necessary to determine the murderer is so guilty to be warrant a death sentence. The person might not be "factually innocent," but s/he still is not guilty enough to deserve the death sentence.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 16, 2012 2:24:27 PM

@ MikeinCT:

"How is the alternative any different? By advocating life in prison as opposed to the death penalty are you a hypocrite if you're not willing to spend the next 30 years in prison for a crime you did not commit?"

No, my friend. Here's the thing you're missing: I'm not saying it is acceptable. It is unacceptable to me that anyone innocent should be condemned, either to death, to life in prison, or to some term of years for a crime that they did not commit.

Folks making that argument on the pro-DP side are saying just the opposite -- that it is acceptable to them that innocents will die for the sake of having the death penalty. If that is acceptable to them for strangers, most likely poor, black, and innocent strangers, to die for the sake of maintaining the status quo, it would then be hypocritical for them to not be willing to die themselves.

I've done a good bit of work for the Innocence Project. It is never acceptable to me. I'm not one to write off innocents going away for things they didn't do as a risk necessary to maintain our system of justice.

Posted by: Guy | Aug 16, 2012 3:46:43 PM

Váš blog je opravdu jedinečný, je možné bez ohledu na to ze všech hledisek popsat jako nápaditý, může nám dobrý způsob psaní? Opravdu si to užil. . děkuji.

Posted by: maillot lakers | Aug 17, 2012 3:55:20 AM

Capital Punishment is like slavery: nobody has the right to impose it.

Death penalty is a clear violation of human rights: right to equality, right to life, freedom from torture.
It is a black hole in the Law: a land with unclear borders changing in different times and countries.
It is rarely and arbitrarily enforced with a predilection for racial minorities.
It is a “privilege” of the poor, because “capital punishment means that those without the capital get the punishment”.
It is an irreversible punishment that kills the insane and the innocent.
It is not self-defense, but revenge.
It is not a more effective deterrent than prison and makes worst the evil it pretends to cure, because death penalty brutalizes and makes society more violent.
Death penalty is a human sacrifice, a ritualistic slaughter carried out in cold blood by the State. It is a travesty of justice and “nothing more than the purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering”.
Sooner or later everybody will realize that capital punishment is an immoral, indecent, illegal, expensive, stupid, cruel, dangerous, racist, classist, arbitrary, capricious, inconsistent, not working violation of human rights.

17 Aug 1915 Leo Frank lynching

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | Aug 17, 2012 4:21:51 AM

@Guy
"No, my friend. Here's the thing you're missing: I'm not saying it is acceptable. It is unacceptable to me that anyone innocent should be condemned, either to death, to life in prison, or to some term of years for a crime that they did not commit. "

Say that all you like, but you still advocate a system where you know it will and does happen and will happen at a far higher rate than the execution of an innocent person. Whether you say it's acceptable or not is irrelevant. You're a hypocrite.

"Folks making that argument on the pro-DP side are saying just the opposite -- that it is acceptable to them that innocents will die for the sake of having the death penalty. If that is acceptable to them for strangers, most likely poor, black, and innocent strangers, to die for the sake of maintaining the status quo"

Kindly point out where I or a more notable DA or politician has said that. Don't worry, I'll wait.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Aug 17, 2012 12:50:50 PM

@ MikeinCT:

"Say that all you like, but you still advocate a system where you know it will and does happen and will happen at a far higher rate than the execution of an innocent person. Whether you say it's acceptable or not is irrelevant. You're a hypocrite."

Owie, my feewings! It's actually not irrelevant, since that's the whole point of what makes someone who does say it's acceptable a hypocrite. Methinks you don't know what that word means, especially in light of the fact that what I "advocate" for is a system a lot different from the current one. You know, one that maybe possibly doesn't grind up as many innocent people as it currently does.

"Kindly point out where I or a more notable DA or politician has said that. Don't worry, I'll wait."

Kindly point out where I said you or a more notable DA or politician has said that. Don't worry, I'll wait.

Posted by: Guy | Aug 17, 2012 5:52:25 PM

@Guy
"It's actually not irrelevant, since that's the whole point of what makes someone who does say it's acceptable a hypocrite. Methinks you don't know what that word means, especially in light of the fact that what I "advocate" for is a system a lot different from the current one. You know, one that maybe possibly doesn't grind up as many innocent people as it currently does."
I'm not sure if you've ever read this blog before, but I don't think anyone is happy with the status quo, regardless of their feelings on the death penalty. Nor does having the death penalty or abolishing it change the fact that innocent people are convicted and die in prison. Hence, your comment makes no sense.

"Kindly point out where I said you or a more notable DA or politician has said that. Don't worry, I'll wait."
They tend to advocate and apply the death penalty. Their comments are on record. It would be a simple matter for you to find some examples that could prove your point that those who advocate the death penalty are racists who don't care if innocent people die.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Aug 17, 2012 11:54:02 PM

@ Mike:

"I'm not sure if you've ever read this blog before, but I don't think anyone is happy with the status quo, regardless of their feelings on the death penalty. Nor does having the death penalty or abolishing it change the fact that innocent people are convicted and die in prison. Hence, your comment makes no sense."

No? I read plenty of comments on here about how things are going swimmingly. If you think that no one is happy with the status quo, then I'm not sure you've read this blog before.

My comment makes no sense? My comment was in response to you calling me a hypocrite. I'll try to break it down for you:

Go look upthread real fast, and re-familiarize yourself with this conversation. Specifically, look at where you jumped in. We were talking about the proposition that, if someone says it's acceptable for an innocent person to die and that they are simultaneously unwilling to be the one to do it, or to sacrifice a loved one, that would make them a coward (and a hypocrite).

Got it? Good. Now pay close attention here. A hypocrite is someone who acts in a way that is contrary to their beliefs. Do you see why someone adopting the above position would be a hypocrite? It's because they're fine with innocent people dying. So long as it isn't them. Or their family. Or anyone they know.

Then, you proceeded to call me a hypocrite because I, according to you, advocate for a prison system where innocent people get convicted. Did I advocate for that system, Mike? Please, point out where I champion a system that gets innocent people convicted. I'd be most interested (and surprised!) to see that.

Unless I've recently suffered a massive head-wound and experienced total memory loss, what I believe I champion is a system that, ideally, incarcerates no one. How about proper funding for PD offices? What about balancing trial procedure to equalize the playing field? What about removing near-universal immunity for prosecutors who bury exculpatory evidence? See, these are things I would like to see happen.

So that in mind, my friend, I would like you to kindly explain to me how, exactly, it is that I am a hypocrite. Now I know that all might be a lot to take in -- you can re-read it if you need to. Take your time, it's okay. I'll wait.

"They tend to advocate and apply the death penalty. Their comments are on record. It would be a simple matter for you to find some examples that could prove your point that those who advocate the death penalty are racists who don't care if innocent people die. "

I'm sorry Mike, I believe the correct answer was "No Guy, you are right. You did not say that I or another DA or politician said that. My mistake." It's cute that you're trying to shift the goalposts here -- and it would be super effective if it actually had anything to do with what we were talking about (whether my proposition for anyone who says it's okay that it is an acceptable risk that innocent people should die is fair), but it isn't.

But okay Mike, I don't know of any off-hand. I could probably fire up teh Google and may or may not be able to find a quote from a DA or politician saying it's acceptable for probably poor, probably black innocent people to die so that we can keep our beloved death penalty (or something to that effect).

But you want to know the funny thing about it? I don't need to. Want to know why?

Because it's a major unstated premise in any argument made in support of the death penalty ever.

I'm sure you would agree with the notion that the death penalty (especially in Texas) carries with it a risk that innocent people will die. Even with all our direct appeals, collateral attacks, habeas petitions, and petitions of cert, there is still a risk that innocent people will die. If we multiple that risk, even ever so infinitesimally small, by thousands of cases, eventually it becomes not such a small risk anymore. Eventually it becomes a real risk, that at least some innocent person has died. Perhaps his name was Carlos. Perhaps he didn't look like you or I. Perhaps he didn't have the same fortune and ability as you or I to go to college, then law school.

But no matter -- maybe you think we haven't executed anyone innocent folks (yet, anyway). But the risk still there. And if that risk is there, anyone who supports the death penalty finds that risk to be acceptable by virtue of them supporting the machine itself.

So then, my friend, let me ask you this: are you willing to be the one? Are you willing to take the needle? What about someone you know? Someone close to you, that you love? A wife? A son or daughter? Are you willing to sacrifice them?

If the answer to that question is yes, then boy howdy you are anything but a hypocrite. If the answer to that question is no, then I would invite you to reconsider your support of the death penalty. I know you'll probably dance around it, say I'm being unfair and such. Well, to that I just say that innocent people aren't born in a vacuum. They have family, too. Husbands and wives. Sons and daughters. People that love them. People that care for them. If the risk is acceptable for them to shoulder, why isn't it acceptable for you to shoulder as well? What makes you special, Mike?

Cheers.

Posted by: Guy | Aug 18, 2012 4:43:08 PM

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