The System Will Still Be Broken

Examining the California SAFE Act

By: Joe R Avila

The Campaign to End the Death Penalty sent a questionnaire into over 200 prisoners in San Quentin seeking their thoughts about the SAFE Act. Below is one of the many responses we received. 

I am opposed to the SAFE Act because it would have an effect on how my case is scrutinized. That nature of my case is similar to that of Estaban Núñez, whose father was a California assembly speaker. His sentence was reduced from 16 years to seven years by outgoing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Initially, I was charged with voluntary manslaughter and Núñez with first-degree murder. He received a manslaughter charge with a sentence reduction leading to his freedom. I, in turn, went from a voluntary manslaughter charge to a death sentence.

By no means are these cases related. Nevertheless, I oppose the SAFE Act for the unjust burden that it sets in preventing proper scrutiny and judgment of my case. I am not in favor of LWOP.

I am not in favor of the funds that SAFE creates going directly to police and prosecutors because money received for preventing crime doesn’t necessarily go to programs for our youth. It would most likely lead to more arrests on false pretenses and the unjust prosecution of indigent people who are forced to be represented by a court-appointed attorney on a miniscule budget who would be up against a prosecution with limitless resources.

Diverting funds from the appellate process is just another tactic used for denying indigent inmates the right to fairness under our judicial system and would be a major setback for those who have been wrongfully accused and convicted.

I believe that this money should be used both for directing our youth onto a productive path in life and for the appellate process for those facing life and life without parole sentences.

Although money is the main issue with most California voters, I’ve questioned whether or not fairness and equality are taken into consideration when discussing the ballot measure. It passed, my chances of relief from the courts are diminished and I would live the rest of my life in prison without the hopes of my case being scrutinized all because I am an indigent death row inmate without the political connections that merit a “get out of jail free” card such as Núñez.

No matter what the voters decide, the system will still be broken.

Joe R Avila is on death row in California. You can write to Joe at:

#P 38500-5-EB-65

San Quentin, California 94974


In November, the people of California will be voting on a ballot measure that could repeal the death penalty there. Since it won a place on the ballot, the SAFE Act has been a topic of discussion and important debate among criminal justice reform activists.

  The measure has the potential to take over 700 people off death row in one of the largest death penalty states - yet the "tough on crime" proposals at the heart of the SAFE Act are leading a growing number of activists to turn against it.

0ver the next several months the Campaign to End the Death Penalty will be providing a forum about this debate on our website through a new blog titled "Examining the Califonia SAFE Act."

This blog project aims to collect various news articles, editorials and especially prisoners writing about this initiative.  We would love folks to send our way any articles or writings that you think will add to this discussion.  Contact us at or