By Stephen Cooper
The biggest lie about Proposition 66, California’s poorly drafted new death penalty law — only missing another “6” in numbering to be properly identified as the devil’s spawn — is speed.
Pro-death penalty zealots, special interest groups, and prosecutors hell-bent on political gain — including a prosecutor accused of lying under oath during a murder prosecution, another profiled by the BBC because of his infatuation with the death penalty, and of course, Mark Peterson, the Contra Costa district attorney forced to resign this month after pleading no contest to felony perjury — promised voters that under Prop 66, death row inmates would have just five years to appeal their convictions.
“Hogwash,” I wrote, and still maintain. “Prop 66 won’t fool Californians.” Because, as many of our regretful, “woke” citizens are realizing post-election, unlike carpenter James Wilson Marshall’s historic discovery of gold at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1848, Prop 66’s promised turbo-charging of California’s machinery of death is 24-carat “fool’s gold.”
But this is not strictly an “I told you so” column despite the fact that several judges on California’s highest court recently indicated that they too believe Prop 66 usurps the judiciary’s authority to decide the complex, life and death issues at stake in death penalty litigation. And there’s no need to rehash the indisputable truth that:
- There are not enough willing and qualified death penalty lawyers in California — and they don’t grow on trees.
- Prop 66, and the death penalty generally, exact a horribly inhumane and unjust toll on the children of the condemned.
- Prop 66’s death penalty deterrence argument is pure shibboleth.
- Unacceptable racial bias persists in capital punishment.
- Prop 62, the opposing ballot initiative that would have ended capital punishment forever in our state, appeals to the better nature of our angels and could have marked the progress of a maturing society for conscientious Californians.
- California could have tipped the balance in the national debate on the death penalty.
Instead, this column affirms that despite last fall’s bamboozled vote approving Prop 66 by the barest margin, on human rights, California is still better than Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore and Texas! We understand executions are hardly an exact science. That’s a major reason they’ve been stalled so long in the Golden State. And it’s also why, in addition to the substantive legal challenges jeopardizing Prop 66, they’re not slated to start again anytime soon.
Californians simply aren’t quick to torture citizens to death and cover it up — like in North Korea or in other parts of the United States even. Yup, that’s right, I’m talking about you Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Arizona, and you abominable others too (as alluded to above, when it comes to the death penalty, as with mostly everything else, “don’t mess with Texas!”).
Civilized, peaceful, fiscally savvy, state and federal constitution-loving Californians know we can’t afford 18 executions all at once, which is, at a minimum, the number of inmates out of appeals and immediately eligible to be put to death. Californians don’t want our courts paralyzed and rendered completely dysfunctional due to Prop 66 and the emotionally draining, morally bankrupt, money-sucking demands necessitated by the death penalty. Rather, we need every scarce resource available to fund the entirety of California’s justice system — civil, criminal, administrative, et cetera — not to mention our state government, our health care system, our school system, and many other things affecting large swaths of the population.
In fact, here in California, we need every penny of the millions of dollars we routinely chuck out chasing lethal vengeance. We need that money, manpower, and precious moral credibility that is lost through state-sanctioned murder. We need it to invest in our children, our fragile economy, and our threatened environment.
It’s long past time we ended capital punishment in California. We should have done it on Nov. 8, but we can’t give up the fight. For as the incomparable civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., counseled, “the time is always right to do what is right.”
This column was originally published in 2017 in the Times of San Diego – reprinted by permission of the author. Stephen Cooper is a former District of Columbia public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills.