Prop. 34 would end injustice of death penalty

Tomorrow, Californians will be faced with a question of life or death.

In addition to choosing the next president of the United States, California voters must decide whether they will continue to support the death penalty, or vote to abolish it. If approved, Proposition 34 would replace the death penalty with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, including for those currently on death row.

Yiwen Fu | Daily Trojan

Despite the many arguments for the death penalty, voters should support this ballot initiative in the polls to bring the California justice system out of the past and to further the cause of civil liberties.

Though California’s death penalty policy ended in the 1970s, a ballot initiative restored it in 1978. Since then, the state has seen only 13 executions. There are currently 724 inmates on death row, but the last execution took place in 2006.  Looking at the numbers, it’s clear this is a logistically flawed system that wastes scores of state funds on the hundreds of death row inmates that will never be executed.

Even worse, the death penalty is a morally loose system that gives the state the ability to play God so to speak — without the omniscience that would ensure no innocent citizen was wrongly put to death.

There is no surefire way to know how many innocent people have been executed, but there have been enough instances that should make even the most ardent supporters of the death penalty think twice. A Texas man, Carlos DeLuna, executed in 1989, was recently found to be innocent.  And Ellis Wayne Felker, executed in 1996, was later exonerated when an autopsy ruled him out as a suspect.

The possibility that even one innocent person could be killed by the state makes the death penalty particularly not worth the cost.

Additionally, more than 130 inmates have been released from death row in the last 40 years in the United States, further demonstrating the huge potential for human error. The stakes are too high for something like this to continue.

Giving the state the power to take the lives of civilians takes that power too far, and it is an appropriate time to end the death penalty not only in California, but in the country. California voters need to take advantage of this opportunity to set an example that will hopefully spread to the rest of the pro-capital punishment U.S. states.

Among Western countries, the United States is the only one that still has the death penalty in the books and the only Western country that executed a prisoner in 2011. Last year, America ranked fifth in the world for the most executions, following only China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.  As a nation that proudly claims to be the polar opposite of such brutal authoritarian regimes as these, we cannot continue to have a justice system with such a backward policy.

It will undoubtedly be a while before the entire United States gets behind the anti-capital punishment movement, but California has the opportunity to advance a more modern system of justice that focuses on enacting punishment without resorting to the same fatal tactics as the criminals it seeks to stop.

There are those who support capital punishment and see Prop. 34 as an unacceptable liberalization and softening of the justice system for some of the worst criminals. But these supporters forget that for many, life in prison can be a harsher form of punishment, as inmates must stay in maximum security prisons their entire lives without any hope for escape — a hope that capital punishment essentially gives them.

It is not even a question that many people who are given a death sentence are the lowest form of humanity possible and deserve the highest form of punishment for their crimes — but it should not be in the state’s purview to impose death. Instead, those who would otherwise be placed on death row should be locked up in prison for life without any possibility for parole. Luckily, that is exactly what Prop. 34 would do if passed.

To ensure that the state does not continue to have the excessive power of executing its own citizens, and also in order to cut costs for a state already mired in debt — the current death penalty system is costing taxpayers an estimated $137 billion per year and one imposing lifetime imprisonment would only cost $11.5 million per year, according to the Death Penalty Information center — we must vote yes on Prop. 34. Ours could be the generation that pushes the justice system into the future and saves innocent citizens from death by the state.


Sarah Cueva is a junior majoring in political science and Middle East studies. Her column “Leaning Toward Liberty” runs Mondays.

1 reply
  1. ACADP - Australia
    ACADP - Australia says:

    Great article Sarah. Hoping that Californians vote YES to Prop 34. The death penalty system is not only barbaric, but it has been proven time and time again to be a seriously flawed system, riddled with legal errors, a broken system beyond repair, and most discriminative.

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