This morning at San Francisco’s City Hall, members of the SAFE California Coalition submitted signatures to the Department of Elections to put an initiative on the November ballot that would end the death penalty in California. Proponents say they gathered over 800,000 signatures, which will now be reviewed by elections officials before they’re able to send the proposal to voters. If passed, the initiative would replace capital punishment with life without the possibility of parole.
SAFE California’s message is three-pronged. The group says California’s death penalty is expensive, prone to error, and ineffective–both in that it hasn’t been carried out in years because of constitutional lawsuits, and because, they say, it doesn’t make California safer.
Retired Santa Clara Superior Court Judge LaDoris H. Cordell summed up the case for abolishing California’s death penalty:
The $184 million a year that is spent on the 720 death row inmates each year to keep them safe and sound is $184 million a year that is not being spent to keep all of us, law abiding Californians safe and sound. We Californians are facing a serious public safety gap. Forty-six percent of murders, fifty-six percent of rapes in California are unsolved. This means that hundreds of murderers and rapists are on our streets because the money to pay for investigations to apprehend these criminals is not there, it’s in death row.
Local statistics are even more dire: numbers from the California Attorney General’s Office show 58 percent of homicides and 70 percent of rapes in San Francisco County went unsolved in the first decade of this century; in Alameda County, 62 percent of homicides and 66 percent of rapes were never solved.
If passed, $30 million a year in budget savings from the initiative would be redirected to solving cold homicide and rape cases in the state. Death row inmates cost the state more than those serving life without parole largely because of added security costs and the fact that death row inmates are entitled to a publicly funded legal team for as long as they live.
Meanwhile, in Sacramento, State Senator Joel Anderson believes California’s capital punishment system should be fixed, not scrapped. He recently introduced two measures that would repeal a law that mandates all death penalty cases be automatically appealed to the California Supreme Court and would send them instead to an appeals court.
SAFE California member and former San Quentin Warden Jeanne Woodford said Anderson’s proposal wouldn’t streamline the appeals process, just reroute it.
California hasn’t had an execution since 2006 because of ongoing federal court cases that allege the state’s lethal injection process violates the First and Eighth Amendments. The state built a new $835,000 lethal injection chamber at San Quentin and rewrote its lethal injection protocol and in an effort to dispel concerns over its constitutionality, but the federal cases remain unresolved. A state court judge recently ruled that California violated its administrative process while rewriting the protocol by not giving enough importance to public comments.