Are you for abolishing the death penalty but thinking of voting against Proposition 34?

Examining the California SAFE Act


By: Douglas Scott Mickey

A majority yes-vote on Proposition 34 abolishes California's death penalty and replaces it with life in prison without possibility of parole (LWOP)—retroactively for the 729 men and women currently awaiting execution on California's death row. A handful of death row prisoners, family members, associates, and an appellate attorney have been making news by publicly denouncing and/or advocating a no-vote on Prop34. In all the so-called left-wing arguments for why people against the death penalty should cast a no-vote on Proposition 34 there's been a deafening silence about the consequences if this ballot initiative fails to pass: dozens of men and women will be executed long before California gets another opportunity to abolish the death sentence.

Of the handful of death row prisoners speaking out against Prop 34, only one of them has any real "skin in the game." That is, their necks aren't the ones being put on the executioner's chopping block. Only one of these men has exhausted his appeals and will be amongst the first wave to be executed should Prop 34 fail to pass. These other men have several years or decades to go before their appeals process is exhausted. Some of them haven't even been appointed an attorney; until then their appeal's clock doesn't even start ticking. So, it's all well and good for these men and their advocates to attempt to discourage voters from passing Prop 34. They have nothing to lose in waiting for a ballot measure that's more to their liking. I and others like me have increasingly been subjected to some of the "Johnny-come-lately" death row prisoners mocking us with remarks such as "We'll have to sacrifice some of you 'old timers' now so the rest of us can get a better deal a few years from now." That doesn't sound to me like someone who is "anti-capital punishment."

What isn't breaking news is the representatives of the state's top law enforcement groups, victim's rights groups, and right-wing politicians riding on the same bandwagon as the left-wing opponents to Prop 34's repeal of California’s death penalty. Although these two groups come from opposite ends of the political spectrum and pose vastly different agendas for voting no on Prop 34, their short-term goal is identical—prevent the SAFE Act from passing on Election Day, November 6, 2012. Politics indeed make for strange bed-fellows.

The Proposition 34 proponents' best argument is "nobody is being executed; the system is broken, so let's replace it with the less expensive LWOP option." Last year it cost California taxpayers $184 million over what it would have cost to house death row prisoners if they had been sentenced to life in prison. Moreover, to fully implement the death penalty will cost state taxpayers another $85 million a year for court costs and attorney fees. And that's before calculating the ever-increasing growth in the death row population.

Governor Jerry Brown and State Attorney General Kamala D. Harris have pledged to carry out the state's death penalty law. Those hoping for clemency should know Gov. Brown has stated he needs another term to finish balancing California's budget. Consequently Gov. Brown has directed the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to develop a one drug protocol for lethal injection executions. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled this one drug protocol to be constitutional in other states. If Prop 34 fails, California's new single drug protocol could be published for public comment the day after the election. By midsummer 2013, the floodgates to California's execution chamber could be open for business—putting to death a growing number men and women whose appeals have been exhausted.

Once the execution chamber is up and running, the proponents of Prop 34 can no longer claim with any conviction "the system is broken.” By the time the next election cycle rolls around these “pro-lifers” will have to come up with a far more convincing rationale for abolishing capital punishment.

Right now Prop 34's proponents have a funding advantage of about $3 million over the opposition's $40,000. Contrary to what left-wing opponents to Prop 34 claim, the ACLU has endorsed the ballot initiative to the tune of $325,000. But if Prop 34 fails, even while pending executions are on hold and even while proponents have an overwhelming advantage in funding, then by the time the next election cycle comes around it's going to be nearly impossible to get the necessary support and funding for a “new and progressively improved” anti-death penalty ballot measure.

So if you are against the death penalty, please don't be misled into believing the hype that “Nobody's going to be executed anyway!" The appellate attorneys have done their best and all but exhausted the constitutional grounds for postponing executions. The number of men and women whose appeals have run their course continues to grow ever larger and larger. The single drug protocol has been ruled constitutional and is actively being executed in several other states. The state-sponsored execution machinery suffers no shortage of the necessary drug to render death to any number of hapless human beings.

Legislatures in other pro-death penalty states are anxiously watching to see if California abolishes capital punishment. Many of them are ready to follow California's lead. If the SAFE Initiative succeeds in passing, it could save countless lives on death rows across our great nation. The world is watching to see what California voters will do here on November 6, 2012. Will they rewrite California's history to become a beacon of compassion toward the least of us or to become an ever-darkening cloud of social intolerance and political backwardness?

On which side of history do you want your vote to make a stand?

Make no mistake, if Proposition 34 fails,  a rush to execute dozens of human beings will be unleashed upon your "Golden State” sooner and more viciously than you might imagine in what many consider to be the world's most advanced civilized society. The "Global Village" is watching. Vote for the aspirations of your conscience –not for the emotional strivings of those hell-bent on getting a better deal for themselves or to advance their political ideals regardless of how many lives and taxpayer dollars it will cost society along the way, not only here but also across the country.