An effort to bring back a functioning death sentence for certain capital crimes may find its way on next November’s ballot. Law enforcement officials around the state are considering supporting a ballot initiative to streamline death sentence appeals and find an execution method acceptable to the courts.
Many death row inmates wait decades before their sentence is carried out – if, indeed, it is carried out at all. Many die of natural causes in prison. Victim’s families often complain that under the current death penalty law justice is denied.
Executions stopped in 2006 in California when a court ruled that the current method of lethal injection was not proper.
California voters had a chance to do away with the death penalty in the November 2012 election. They refused, defeating Proposition 34, the anti-death penalty measure, by 52% to 48%.
If the law enforcement officials behind the new effort succeed in making the ballot, the argument facing the voters will be reversed. Instead of seeking a Yes vote to undo the death penalty as Prop 34 attempted, a Yes vote in this instance would bring back the death penalty.
The debate over the death penalty usually focuses on the deterrent effect of the law. There have been studies on both sides of the issue. Studies have reported that lives would be saved if some killers are put to death. Others have refuted those studies, claiming the death penalty not only does not prevent killings but is too costly for governments to maintain.
Changing the current laws, of course, by limiting appeals would address the cost question.
But the emphasis on deterrent is not the only argument. Focus on the key word: penalty. Putting aside whether the death penalty serves as a deterrent, the law is also designed to be the ultimate penalty for committing the ultimate crime — the horrific act of taking innocent lives. As a penalty for such acts, voters have stood behind the death penalty law and likely would do so again if they get a chance in November.