NO TO THE DEATH PENALTY
In the Summer 2009 issue of Central California Catholic Life, Fr. Rude discussed why the death penalty is contrary to Christian life. My only additional comment would be a twist on an old military expression, to wit “Damn the cost, full revenge ahead.” Many years ago, Mahatma Ghandi made the following very relevant observation: “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”
We are apparently so wrapped up in revenge, and the desire to strike back, we are willing, at least to date, to pay gobs of money to keep up a death row that is much more expensive than that for the general prison population. There can only be one reason for continuing he death penalty – revenge. “Revenge is mine” says the Lord, not ours. And at what monetary cost.
Due to the lack of legal counsel being available in the court system’s required appeals and habeas corpus proceedings in death cases, 119 inmates have been on death row for more than 20 years. This appeals process adds $54.4 million to the annual cost of death row cases. The leading cause of death on death row is not executions, but natural causes, followed by suicide. Thus, in most cases, a death sentence in California actually means a sentence of life without parole, except it is served on the more expensive death row, where the annual cost per death row inmate is $93,000 more than if he were housed in a general prison population. With the present approximate 119 death row inmates, that is a whopping $11,067,000 per year.
Death penalty cases are composed of two trial stages and the required appeal and habeas corpus hearings at both state and federal levels. The two trial stages are for guilt and for sentence. These stages add $500,000 to the cost of a homicide trial where the death penalty is sought. About 40 death cases are tried each year in California, adding $20 million to the taxpayer burden in the counties where the trials are held. In about half of these trials, the jury rejects death in favor of a life sentence. The bottom line is that a death sentence in California is, for most defendants, a life sentence at four times the usual cost. A conservative estimate of the current cost of California’s death penalty law is $137,700,000 per year, approximately four times the cost if the cases were only for a life sentence without the death penalty being charged. These statistics are not pulled out of the air, but are from a final report of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice issued last year. You can find the report on the web at <ccfaj.org>.
So, if California would eliminate the death penalty in lieu of life imprisonment without parole, like in New Jersey and New Mexico, it would answer the objections, not only of cost, but also of the right to kill, justice delayed is justice denied, and the risk of executing an innocent person. Seven other states are considering this – Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Maryland, Montana, and Washington. So why not California?
Copyright 2009 Jim Flanagan, Esq.
PO Box 1555
North Fork, CA 93643-1555
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