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September 19, 2012

If major newspaper editorials matter, the death penalty will be dead in California

DP cartoonThe title to this post is prompted by this new editorial from the San Francisco Chronicle, which is headlined "Yes on Prop. 34, death penalty repeal."  Here is how the editorial starts and ends:

California's death penalty has not satisfied anyone since it was reinstated 35 years ago. Those who are morally opposed to capital punishment decry the 13 lives taken by the state. Those who believe the death penalty brings justice and closure are frustrated that the average time between sentence and execution is 25 years....

It would be far wiser for California to concentrate its resources on the most indisputable deterrent to violent crime: raising the odds that a perpetrator will be found and convicted. Prop. 34 advances that goal by directing most of the savings toward investigations of homicide and rape cases.  Vote yes.

Though I am not tracking the editorial endorsements of all major papers in California, I know that the editorial boards of both the Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee have also come out in support of the death penalty repeal initiative in front of California voters this November (the cartoon reprinted here comes via the Sacamento Bee).   As explained in this interesting piece from the Bee's editorial page editor, the position of the Sacramento Bee is perhaps especially notable because the Bee has historically supported the death penalty:

[T]here have been times when The Bee has stopped and taken a U-turn, reversing a longstanding editorial position.  One of the biggest came last week, when we ended the editorial board's long-standing support for California's death penalty.

We didn't make this change lightly.  It came after years of debate and discussion that preceded the current makeup of the editorial board.  It came after many months of research and meetings with legal scholars and groups on both sides of the death penalty debate.

The position we took -- that the death penalty is unworkable and unfixable in California -- was crafted with several considerations in mind.  We wanted to respect those Californians -- and previous members of the editorial board -- who believe that executions are a just punishment for convicted murderers who commit the most horrible of crimes.

But we also wanted to make a forceful argument that there is no way in California to carry out that punishment swiftly, equitably and in accordance with our laws and constitution.  As we stated in the first installment of our editorials, "The death penalty in California has become an illusion, and we need to end the fiction -- the sooner the better."

I doubt that newspaper editorials these days have all that much of an impact of voters, and I suspect that is especially true in the context of an emotional and symbolic issue like the death penalty.  Still, I think it is notable, if not ultimately consequential, that the press in California seems of one mind on Proposition 34.

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September 19, 2012 at 10:04 AM | Permalink


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"The death penalty is unworkable and unfixable in California..."

Arrant nonsense. The DP in California got into its present sorry state for particular reasons. Every one of those reasons was brought about by human beings, and every one can be reversed by human beings.

The proof in the pudding is that Virginia, which has nothing like the GDP of California, has a fully functional death penalty. The idea that the DP is workable on the East Coast (Virginia has a budget surplus along with its active death penalty) but, golly, just can't possibly be done on the West Coast, is beyond absurd.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 19, 2012 10:20:10 AM

"If major newspaper editorials matter ..."

They do not. In political campaigns, I've seen polling in Texas that show big paper endorsements often HARM candidates. Ironically, alt weekly endorsements in candidate campaigns carry more weight in local races. In issue campaigns, it's all about voters' predispositions (most can't be persuaded to change their views in either direction), TV advertising, and GOTV mechanics.

Of course, California's dumb-as-dirt government by initiative is its own beast with no comparable process, thankfully, here in the Lone Star State, but I find it difficult to believe newspapers are any more influential there than here.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Sep 19, 2012 10:46:53 AM

"The chances of your being killed by lightning are nearly the same as a murderer
being killed by lethal injection in California."

[Why is that pray tell, anti-DP sappers?]

Yet the people even-in-the-most-liberal-states-know it to be the just penalty for

The blood of the victims cry out from the grave, as it were.
We, the living are honour-bound to see that the punishment fits the crime.

"The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government"—T. Jeff.

Posted by: Adamakis | Sep 19, 2012 11:27:08 AM

The arguments in support of Pro. 34, the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty, are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and false. Proposition 34 is being funded primarily by a wealthy company out of Chicago and the ACLU. It includes provisions that would make our prisons less safe for both other prisoners and prison officials. It significantly increases the costs to taxpayers due to life-time medical costs, the increased security required to coerce former death-row inmates to work, the money to pay those inmates to work, etc. The amount “saved” in order to help fund law enforcement is negligible and only for three years. (The money is taken from the general fund irregardless of whether Prop 34 actually saves any money.) Prop. 34 also takes away funds inmates could use to actually fight for their innocence, increasing the risk that innocent people will spend the rest of their lives in jail. The dollars Prop. 34 takes away ensure both that innocent people are not executed or spend the rest of their lives in jail. Get the facts and supporting evidence at http://cadeathpenalty.webs.com and http://waiting4justice.org/.

Posted by: Chris Bernstien | Sep 19, 2012 3:00:37 PM

"Get the facts and supporting evidence at http://cadeathpenalty.webs.com and http://waiting4justice.org/."

Really now....try reading some other positions on this topic at these sites also.

(1) An article by James Clark, field organizer, ACLU of Southern California.


(2) pg 77, fiscal year 2007-2008,


(3) http://www.bsa.ca.gov/pdfs/reports/97125.pdf

(4) page 80, fiscal year 2007-2008,


(5) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-clark/cut-this-the-death-penalt_b_627759.html

(6) "Investigating the Costs of the Death Penalty in California: Insights for Future Data Collection in California, RAND Corp., 2/2008


Posted by: Inquiring minds would like to know | Sep 19, 2012 7:41:39 PM

The Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court recently observed that the death penalty in that State has become unworkable.

She probably has more insight concerning the issue than the average blog commenter.

Posted by: Jumping Jack Flash | Sep 19, 2012 10:22:49 PM

She and the other justices are thinking prospectively about 700 plus death penalty cases to hear on direct appeal and postconviction. Also, the possibility of cases being sent back by federal courts to exhaust claims.
It is intimidating to them when they see how many cases there are and the time they will have to invest.

Posted by: DaveP | Sep 19, 2012 11:03:32 PM

Jumping Jack Flash --

"The Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court recently observed that the death penalty in that State has become unworkable."

What's been done can be undone. The problems with the California DP do not arise from the Constitution -- we know that from the SCOTUS. They arise from the sub-Constitutional legislative and judicial procedures in that state, and not one of those procedures cannot be changed into something workable.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 19, 2012 11:15:27 PM

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