Rethinking the Death Penalty

The option on the death penalty that few know about.

Ian Caffarel, Staff Writer

In California, the death penalty has been a hot topic. This year is no different. In November, voters have a choice between Proposition 62, which outright abolishes the death penalty in the state, and Proposition 66, which significantly alters it. Most, if not all, the talk is on keeping or not keeping it. What we don’t realize, however, is that a third option does exist. If the death penalty is given some retooling, there’s a rather decent chance it can regain its effectiveness as a deterrent.

First, the appeals process for inmates on death row can be streamlined. This means cutting down on the timeframe for an appeal, and the number of appeals themselves. This means voting ‘Yes’ on Prop 66. According to the California Complete Voters Information Guide, the proposition ‘Designates superior court for initial petitions and limits successive petitions.’ In short, it will cut down on the repeated appeals some death row inmates repeatedly file to stave off an execution for as long as possible. The description goes on to say, “A defendant’s claim of actual innocence should not be limited, but frivolous and unnecessary claims should be restricted.” With the appeals down, the process will go faster, and, more importantly, less money will be used. That is music to the ears of a state that is tight for cash.

According to the San Jose Mercury-News, “the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a federal judge’s sweeping decision last year finding California’s death penalty system unconstitutional because of decades-long delays in the handling of death row inmates’ appeals.” This decision is important to the cause of keeping the death penalty in California, as it keeps the door open to fixing a broken system. Proposition 66 will take things a step further when streamlining the appeals process. It will then take months, not years, to process the appeals by criminals.

Think of this for a second: California’s death row at San Quentin Prison is home to around 700 male inmates. The last time one of them was executed was in 2006. As harsh as it might sound, executions need to happen more frequently again. Therefore, the factor of intimidation the death penalty once had will return again.

We also need to return the ‘deterrence’ factor the death penalty once had. Much of what has been outlined above can help towards that. More executions means more people getting the message that if you kill someone, you forfeit your right to live. In a speech in the British Parliament against a bill that would abolish capital punishment, in 1868, John Stuart Mill said, “…to deter suffering by inflicting suffering is not only possible, but the very purpose of penal justice. We show, on the contrary, most emphatically our regard for it, by the adoption of a rule that he who violates that right in another forfeits it for himself, and that while no other crime he can commit deprives him of his right to life, this shall.”

Mill is right: If we have to inflict suffering on another person to show everyone else that doing so is wrong, we shall. Similar to how if you steal, you get fined, or if you try to kidnap someone, you get held in prison. The punishment has to fit the crime.
Also, when a murderer kills someone, it shows their disregard for human life, and therefore, they must be punished accordingly. Now, does the deterrence effect work? Well, according to US News, from September 2014, quoting a study by Kenneth Land of Duke University, “from 1994 through 2005, each execution in Texas was associated with “modest, short-term reductions” in homicides, a decrease of up to 2.5 murders.”

If there’s one thing that the study proves, it’s that the death penalty, when used correctly, deters crime. There is a deterrent effect. The last time California executed anyone was a decade ago. That needs to change. We talk the talk, now we have to walk the walk. If we vote “No” on Proposition 62, and “Yes” on 66, the death penalty has a chance. Taking measures, such as those outlined above, will go ways to make it greater and effective again.