You’ve seen the signs and heard the arguments: vote for Lois Capps, yes on Prop 30, no on Prop 32. But what haven’t you heard? (Besides the obvious conservative argument, of course.) Where’s all the discussion on Prop 34? Perhaps it’s the fact that the economy trumps all other talking points thanks to our current financial predicament, or that we’re facing the closest presidential election since 2000 which causes us to forget that the death penalty is even on the ballot this year.
For the unfamiliar, Prop 34 would replace California’s capital punishment statute with life in prison with no parole, applying retroactively to all 725 convicts on death row. The principle argument thus far has been that abolishing the death penalty would eliminate between $100 and $130 million in funding for trials and appeals that could be better spent investigating unsolved violent crimes. At a time when the state is scrambling to support its own public schools, you would think that $130 million is an attractive enough sum to garner support for a measure that would have no adverse effects on the large majority of Americans. Yet its support hovers around 38 percent.
Having focused on the financial benefit of Prop 34, its advocates have allowed the issue to become framed as a choice between money and justice. But the death penalty is hardly so black and white. As the old cliché goes, two wrongs don’t make a right. Killing the offender doesn’t undo his crime, it only adds to the body count. Once in custody, the criminal cannot cause any more harm. It ceases to be a matter of justice and becomes one of revenge — and that’s assuming that the convict is guilty.
Since 1992, more than 15 death row inmates have been proven not guilty due to newly released DNA evidence. Sadly, DNA evidence isn’t always available, leaving some to be convicted without sufficient evidence. Execution robs convicts of the eventual possibility of acquittal based on later evidence. If justice is better late than never, a life sentence should be the obvious choice.
Some have argued that the death penalty saves lives in the long run by preventing repeat offenses, but a life sentence without parole would accomplish the same goal. Beyond that, the idea of only receiving a life sentence is hardly an encouraging thought in the mind of a potential offender. There would be no discernible increase in crime due to the lessening of penalty. Take Europe, for example. All but Belarus have outlawed capital punishment, and the European Union requires its abolition for membership. Of the 39 EU member and candidate states, only Estonia and Lithuania were above the United States’ homicide rate of 5.4 per 100,000 people between 2007 and 2009, whereas most were far below that.
“But wait!” you might say. “Our prisons are already overloaded. It’s far more efficient to rid ourselves of the worst offenders so we can focus on the others.” Efficiency? Consider this: There are 725 criminals currently on death row in California. Due to lengthy appeal processes and an imposed moratorium, only 13 people have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978. At its core, death row is already a life imprisonment, albeit it a far costlier one. The system isn’t just inefficient, it’s ineffective, unjust, costly, and above all, immoral. It’s time we abandoned Hammurabi’s Code and joined the rest of civilized society in ending the death penalty.
Daniel Slovinsky is a third-year communication major.
Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students.