By Michael Hestrin
Historically, Californians have overwhelmingly supported the death penalty. Yet, during every election cycle a ballot measure comes up looking to repeal it. Well this year is no different. Governor Brown and a host of Hollywood elite are actively pushing Proposition 62, which would repeal the death penalty, granting criminals convicted of murder with special circumstances a life sentence instead.
Opponents of the death penalty try to point out the possibility of persons being wrongly convicted of capital offenses, sentenced to death and then being executed. The fact is there is no documented case of this EVER taking place in California due to the expertise and painstaking quality of investigation and prosecutorial work that has gone into death penalty cases.
Instead of abolishing the death penalty altogether, a smarter move is to mend a broken system. Proposition 66 is the answer Californians are looking for. The goals behind Prop 66 are laudable and more in line with the thinking of the California electorate that voted to reinstitute the death penalty to begin with—mend it, don’t end it.
Prop 66 reforms will speed up the appeals process, ensuring appeals are heard within 5 years and no innocent person is executed. It doesn’t do so in a hasty way intended to cut corners. It does so by eliminating legal and procedural delay tactics while still respecting the legal rights and recourse for those convicted.
Prop 66 would ensure that every person sentenced to death has qualified death penalty appeals counsel assigned immediately, eliminating the current wait of five years or more. The appeals would then be expedited without endangering due process, and initiated at the trial court level where the facts of the cases are best known.
Death row inmates have murdered over 1,000 victims, including 226 children and 43 police officers; 294 victims were raped and/or tortured. It’s time California reformed our death penalty process so it works and provides murder victims and their families with some sense of closure. Instead of talking about how barbaric and unfair the death penalty in California is, those seeking to abolish it should give thought to those victims who had their lives taken from them, often in truly brutal and horrific ways, and their families who have had to live with the knowledge that the murders of their loved ones continue to live at the expense of the taxpayer.
And regarding the expense, those backing repeal of the death penalty try to point to a great windfall of savings for the taxpayer if those on death row simply spend that time in prison for life rather than face execution. Even at an estimated $150 million reduction in annual costs, one would still have to concede that the savings is a paltry drop in the bucket compared to the vast size of California’s budget and hardly the worst use of taxpayer funds. Instead, under Prop 62, taxpayers are on the hook to feed, clothe, house, guard and provide healthcare to brutal killers until they die of old age costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Criminals don’t end up on death row unless they are convicted of the worst crimes. Victims left behind, grieving families throughout California and their loved ones, don’t deserve anything less than justice. Justice is a reformed, not eliminated death penalty.
We urge a “No” vote on Proposition 62 and a “Yes” vote on Proposition 66.
Michael Hestrin was sworn in as the Riverside District Attorney in 2015. Prior to being sworn as the DA, Hestrin spent 18 years as a line prosecutor in the DA’s Office.