Death Penalty on the Initiative Plan

John Seiler
Former Editorial Writer at the Orange County Register

One reviewer found Celine’s “Death on the Installment Plan” the story of “a gloomy, disillusioned doctor who views medicine cynically and is irritated by his patients.

That’s about how voters are going to look at yet another decision tossed to them about the death penalty in California. Although there are two related initiatives on the November 8 ballot, under state law, if both initiatives pass, the one with the most votes wins.

Proposition 62 ends the death penalty in California (not the federal death penalty). By contrast, Proposition 66 speeds up the court process under which convicted killers start walking the Green Mile. Due to appeals of existing cases in federal court, the last execution was in 2006, 10 years ago, of a fine specimen of human being called Clarence Ray Allen. Already in prison for murder, he organized the murders of three people outside the prison.

But as is usual in California, there are complications within the complications of initiatives. For those favoring the death penalty, largely conservatives, Republicans and law enforcement, the main problem is the state is unlikely to elect a governor ever again who supports the death penalty, meaning death sentences would be commuted before the needle was jabbed into any killer’s arm.

Of the declared candidates, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom long has opposed the death penalty and endorsed Prop. 62. Treasurer John Chiang, according to the Sacramento Bee, has not taken a position yet: “Chiang has positions on 4 of 17 measures. Chiang said though a spokesman that he expects to take positions on ‘many others’ in the months to come.” I suspect he’ll come out against the death penalty to preclude support going to his anti-death penalty opponents from wealthy liberal donors.

Although he hasn’t announced yet if he’s running for governor, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa backed Proposition 34, the 2012 initiative that would have repealed the death penalty, but failed 52 percent to 48 percent.

For those against the death penalty, largely liberals and Democrats, there also are complications. Although their beloved President Obama has found the death penalty “deeply troubling,” he also has backed it. And although he might do so before leaving office in six months, so far he has not commuted the death sentence handed down for convicted Boston Marathon terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. And Democratic presidential nominee for Hillary Clinton still backs the death penalty, although she’s troubled by racial differences in executions in some states.

Then there’s the argument for Prop. 62 by actor Mike Farrell, who sponsored the measure: “Because of all the problems with the death penalty, not a single person has been executed here in the last 10 years. Nonetheless, Californians continue to pay for it in many ways. Whether you look at the death penalty from a taxpayer, a criminal justice or a civil rights perspective, what is clear is that it fails in every respect.”

That’s going to be a major argument: That dumping death-row inmates back into the general population of inmates would save money, up to $150 million a year. But will those inmates, all of them killers, start killing other inmates? Will they, like Allen, direct murders outside the prison? What do they have to lose?

And even if the death penalty is not carried out ever again, is keeping it on the books still a deterrent to potential murderers, who tend to be low IQ and don’t know the positions of potential governors on the death penalty?

Those backing Prop. 62 also tend, like Newsom, to favor Proposition 63 and other gun control initiatives and laws. Supposedly these laws will prevent mass shootings and other murders. But the real problem, as gun scholar John Lott has detailed, is gun-free zones. Psychos and other criminals always will be able to get guns and ammo. But they can be deterred, and if necessary stopped, if law-abiding citizens nearby are armed.

That is, the real way to reduce killings by guns is for armed people themselves to apply the death penalty, or be ready to – immediately, on the spot.

Longtime California commentator John Seiler’s email is: [email protected]

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