Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton: Saving money is weak argument for abolishing death penalty

Published: Wednesday, Sep. 5, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013 - 7:45 pm

If you're going to argue against the death penalty, then argue against the death penalty.

Call it cruel and unusual. Argue that God – and not governments – should decide life and death. Cast doubt on it as a deterrent to violent crime or expand on the words of former President Jimmy Carter.

"Perhaps the strongest argument against the death penalty is extreme bias against the poor, minorities or those with diminished mental capacity," Carter wrote in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in April.

But to argue against the death penalty by stating it's too expensive for California is intellectually dishonest and disrespectful to the victims of the state's most heinous criminals.

Yet that is what proponents of Proposition 34 are doing. The November ballot initiative seeks to repeal California's death penalty law and allow death row inmates to be resentenced to life without parole.

The same people pushing for Proposition 34 – the American Civil Liberties Union, among others – are the ones primarily responsible for California spending too much on death row prisoners in the first place.

Legal delays caused by the ACLU and others are a big reason why California has executed only 13 people since 1978 at a cost of $4 billion.

And yes, those numbers are obscene – just as it's obscene that California has 729 death row inmates.

But Proposition 34 will fail as an argument about money because 68 percent of Californians support the death penalty, according to a 2011 Field Poll.

What gives Proposition 34 proponents hope is that within that 2011 poll, there was increasing support for life without parole over the death penalty – 48 percent to 40 percent. Support for life without parole was even stronger among women, Latinos and African Americans.

Herein lies the fatal flaw of Proposition 34 as a money argument – people choose life without parole over the death penalty for emotional reasons.

Some African Americans and Latinos have long-standing grievances with a legal system that many feel is either stacked against them or can be.

Argue against the death penalty within that context and people listen. People of faith listen to arguments for putting California out of the killing business.

But a money argument? Who in California believes it anymore when ballot initiatives claim big savings being one "yes" vote away?

It's not extremely expensive to house serial killers and child rapists until they die? This is not to mention the horrific stories of people victimized by death row inmates – stories that will be detailed in future columns.

In truth, executions could be sped up if not for the efforts of Proposition 34 proponents.

It would be nice if some of them argued the courage of their convictions before Election Day.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton, news columnist

Marcos Breton

Hello, my name is Marcos Breton and I'm the news columnist with The Sacramento Bee. What's a columnist supposed to do? I'm supposed to make you think, make you laugh, make you mad or make you see an issue in a different way. I'm supposed to connect the dots on issues, people and relationships that cause things to happen or prevent them from happening in our region. I also write a weekly baseball column during the baseball season. I am a voter in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yes, I have voted for Barry Bonds - twice. I am a native of Northern California. I am the son of Mexican immigrants. I've been at The Bee for more than 20 years, and I love Sacramento.

Phone: 916-321-1096
Twitter: @MarcosBreton

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