Human Rights and the Death Penalty

December 10, 2012

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1945. Since then, this day has been celebrated as “Human Rights Day.”

But while we like to think of the United States as a world leader in advancing and protecting human rights, the truth is, we still have a very long way to go right here at home. (See the Ella Baker Center's spotlight on human rights in the United States under its "Blogging for Human Rights" program and check out #Blog4HR on Twitter.)

And nowhere is that more evident than in our use of the death penalty.

The death penalty risks innocent lives at the hands of the state -- perhaps the most flagrant denial of the human right to live that is enshrined in Article III of the Universal Declaration. In the United States, 141 innocent men and women have been release from death row after being wrongly convicted and sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit. And those are the 141 persons that were exonerated before they were executed. We will never know for sure how many innocent people have already been put to death.

People like Cameron Todd Willingham. Mr. Willingham lost his three daughters in a home fire, only to be accused of setting the blaze himself. He was convicted, sentenced to death and executed in 2004. Now experts have concluded that the fire was in fact an accident.

Or Carlos DeLuna. Mr. DeLuna was mistaken for another young man of the same age age, ethnicity, and first name: Carlos Hernández. When DeLuna was convicted and sentenced to death for a murder actually committed by Hernández, he languished on death row while the real killer committed more violent crimes. DeLuna was executed in 1989, but in 2012 a twenty-year long investigation finally showed that DeLuna was innocent.

Those are only two examples with near-conclusive proof -- there are many more cases with persistent doubts, where men and women were executed for crimes they may not have committed. Perhaps most famous is the case of Troy Anthony Davis, who was executed just last year on September 21, 2011. The entire world watched as the state of Georgia carried out a death sentence despite well-documented evidence of innocence and millions of people advocating to spare his life.

As long as we have the death penalty, we run this catastrophic risk that an innocent man or woman will be killed by the state. When the most basic human right is threatened for innocent people, everyone must stand up and work for change. And indeed, people across the US are doing just that, working to replace the death penalty with justice that works. In the last five years, five states have replaced the death penalty with better solutions and new death sentences across the country have plummeted.

In California, voters recently considered Proposition 34, a ballot initiative that would replace the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of, parole. While the initiative narrowly failed, more than 5.8 million voters voiced their support for replacing the death penalty -- 48% of the voters. While California voters once favored the death penalty by more than 70%, they are now split evenly.

The tide is turning on the death penalty in the United States. As more and more states replace this failed policy with real justice, the United States can once again stand for the human rights of all individuals.

A Real-Life Political Ad (For Once)

October 22, 2012


It’s hard to imagine it being taken away without just cause. But it happens -- more often than you might think.

When I was just 16 years old, I was stripped of my freedom, wrongfully convicted of a murder I did not commit. I spent twenty years behind bars before I was finally able to prove my innocence.

But I always wonder, if I had been sentenced to death, would I have been able to prove my innocence in time?

This is why I believe so strongly in Proposition 34, which will replace California’s death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole. With the election just two weeks away, it’s a critical time to make sure California voters hear about the true costs of the death penalty.

Today we’re launching our first Yes on 34 TV ad across the state’s airwaves, urging millions of California voters to replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole. With this new ad, my story will travel farther than ever before -- on television.

Most people can’t imagine being found guilty of a crime they didn’t commit. I never expected that my youth would slip away in prison after I was wrongly convicted. But with this new TV ad, millions of viewers across the state can hear my real-life story and learn that our criminal justice system is good but not perfect. I am living proof that with the death penalty we always risk the execution of an innocent person.

I am honored by the all-star team that came together to help share my story of wrongful conviction with voters -- including Emmy-winner Martin Sheen, iconic actor and director Edward James Olmos, Grammy and Academy-Award winner and world-famous musician Hans Zimmer, and Lili Haydn, the "Jimi Hendrix" of violin.

And Donald Heller, the man who wrote California’s death penalty law, will be sharing his story on the radio. He explains that he never considered the costs of implementing the law and now sees it as a “huge” mistake that also risks the execution of an innocent person.

Voting Yes on Proposition 34 makes sense for California. We can save $130 million every single year by replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. This money can be better spent on education and on tools that actually improve safety in our communities, like testing DNA evidence and investigating unsolved murders. We can also make sure that California never makes an irreversible mistake.

The TV ad that tells my story is just one part of the path to victory for Prop 34. You’ll be hearing our message on the radio and seeing our volunteer teams on the ground across California. We have two weeks left to get the facts about the death penalty to as many voters as possible. We can’t do this without the help from our hard-working volunteers. Will you sign up to help Proposition 34 win on November 6? Then watch our campaign ad, and share with everyone you know.

Together, on November 6, we’ll make history.

Written by Franky Carrillo

An Educated Electorate: Essential to a Robust Democracy

October 3, 2012

Law Professor Paula Mitchell, who co-authored a series of important
studies on the cost of California's death penalty, is featured this
week on the legal blog Verdict. Check out her article, which explains
why the death penalty is so much more expensive than life in prison
without parole, and why we are on track to spend billions of dollars
on it between now and 2050.


In 2011, I co-authored, along with Senior Ninth Circuit Judge Arthur L. Alarcón, a law review article in the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review titled Executing the Will of the Voters?: A Roadmap to Mend or End the California Legislature’s Multi-Billion Dollar Death Penalty Debacle. In that article, we exposed the true costs of the death penalty in California. We concluded that the system is broken, possibly beyond repair.  We suggested several potential reforms to the system, from revising the California Constitution to expedite the appellate process to replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP).

On September 10, 2012, we published an update to this report that includes cost projections for the next several decades.  Our goal in publishing these articles was to disclose the reasons for the failure of the state’s present system, and the enormous costs involved, so that California voters can decide what should be done.

Prior to our law review article, no comprehensive study had been done on the costs of the death penalty in California. Since 1978, when the Briggs Initiative enacted the current death penalty statute, the law has been expanding. Subsequent initiatives have increased the number of crimes that are eligible for the death penalty, and the infrastructure around the death penalty has grown exponentially. We have created the nation’s largest death row, and taxpayers really have no idea how much it has cost the state.

To capture the costs of the death penalty in California, we looked at four major areas where the cost differential between capital and non-capital first-degree murder cases is significant:  pre-trial and trial costs, costs related to direct appeals and state habeas corpus petitions, costs related to federal habeas corpus petitions, and costs of incarceration. As most in the legal community know, capital trials are much more complicated than non-capital murder trials. They require attorneys with specialized training and experience and special jury qualifications. They are bi-furcated into two full phases—guilt and penalty—and require daily transcriptions. Those convicted and sentenced to death are entitled to appellate counsel (which is extremely difficult to find, it now takes about five years to have appellate counsel appointed) and an automatic appeal directly the California Supreme Court (which has only seven justices but must hear every death penalty appeal). The records in these death penalty cases frequently exceed 10,000 pages and the briefs on appeal are typically hundreds of pages long.  It takes a tremendous amount of time to review these materials.  Because these cases are so onerous, it takes about ten years before a direct appeal is even argued before the California Supreme Court.  From there, death row inmates typically seek a petition for a writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court.

If the conviction and sentence are affirmed on direct appeal, the conviction is final. At that point, death row inmates begin their habeas corpus proceedings. First, they file a state habeas corpus petition. These petitions are typically filed directly in the California Supreme Court (still with only seven justices) and are typically hundreds of pages long. Counsel representing death row inmates in state habeas proceedings are provided with a maximum budget of $50,000 to investigate claims of state and federal constitutional violations. If no relief is granted in state court, the inmates next file a habeas corpus petition in the federal district court. Publicly funded counsel is provided for all state and federal habeas proceedings for death row inmates in California. Once in federal court, petitioners have access to additional funds for investigation of their claims. Almost without exception, the district court’s determination is appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, regardless of whether relief has been granted. From there, the case goes once again to the United States Supreme Court for review.  As for housing, death row inmates in California require extra security, an escort at all times, and are given single cells.

Our research found that these costs add up to an incredible $184 million dollars more per year than a system that instead held non-capital first degree murder trials resulting in sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole. We found that the state has spent upwards of $4 billion on the death penalty since 1978, and is on track to spend $1 billion dollars in the next five years. Since publication of this article last year, no county, state, or federal agency has come forward to challenge the accuracy of our cost estimates with any specific data, or any other information.

Our update, Costs of Capital Punishment in California: Will Voters Choose Reform this November?,  considered findings from recent studies which demonstrate that if the current system is maintained, Californians will spend an additional $5 billion to $7 billion over the cost of life in prison without parole to fund the capital punishment scheme between now and 2050. In that time, we are on track to add another 740 inmates to death row, and more than 500 death row inmates will die of old age or other causes before the state executes them.

Our recent article considered a study by Tim Gage, former Director of the California Department of Finance, and Trish McMahon, Policy Analyst for Blue Sky Consulting, which calculated incarceration costs for death row inmates, and found that their housing will cost $1,134,800,000 more than housing for LWOP inmates between now and 2050. We also discussed the cost of the ongoing lethal injection litigation, which has effectively halted executions in California, and the $800,000 the California Department of Corrections spent to construct a new execution chamber in 2007, which has never been used.

New research also confirmed some of the numbers from our 2011 article. A study by Nicholas Petersen and Mona Lynch found that from 1996–2006, Los Angeles County spent $338 million prosecuting death penalty cases.  Of that, $200 million was spent on death penalty trials that ended up with LWOP sentences. This confirms our original estimate that capital trials cost taxpayers, on average, $1 million more than noncapital first-degree murder trials.

A lot has happened in the past year.  California State Senator Loni Hancock introduced Senate Bill 490 in the state legislature to replace the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole. Judge Alarcón and I testified at an informational hearing before the legislature about the findings published in our article on the costs of the death penalty. When that bill failed in committee, a grassroots effort called the SAFE California Coalition took it up as a ballot initiative. They gathered over 800,000 signatures and qualified it for the November 2012 ballot. That initiative is now called Proposition 34, and it proposes that the death penalty in California be replaced with life in prison without the possibility of parole as the state’s most severe penalty.

Proposition 34 proposes three changes to current law. First, it replaces the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole as the maximum punishment for first-degree murder.  Second, it requires those inmates to work and pay restitution into the victims’ compensation fund. And third, it directs $100 million over three years into the SAFE California Fund, which would be disbursed to local law enforcement offices to solve crime. California’s crime-solve rates are disturbingly low:  46% of homicides and 56% of reported rapes go unsolved every year in our state. The SAFE California Fund would help close that gap.

Our goal in undertaking this research was to inform and educate voters about how much this broken system is costing. We wanted the voters to know that their money was being wasted, since only 13 people have been executed in California since this law went into effect. California is basically warehousing capital inmates on death row for up to 10 years while they wait for appellate lawyers, and then for another 10 to 20 years while their habeas corpus proceedings are making their way through the courts. Most inmates are dying of old age. Our report called for change—but we left it open to the voters to decide whether to try to fix this system, which will cost an additional $100 million more per year than we are currently spending, or simply replace it with LWOP. After another year of inaction on the part of the legislature, and another year of more money wasted, Prop 34 will provide voters for the first time in three decades with an opportunity to decide whether it is time for California to try a new approach to improving public safety.

Paula Mitchell is a career federal judicial law clerk for Senior Circuit Judge Arthur L. Alarcón on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal and adjunct law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles where she teaches Habeas Corpus and Civil Rights Litigation. She has written and lectured extensively on the subject of the death penalty in California.

California Voters Take Note: DNA Exonerates Man Who Spent 15 Years on Death Row

September 29, 2012

Today, a man who spent 15 years on solitary in death row in Louisiana became the 300th person exonerated by DNA evidence in the United States.

Damon Thibodeaux, wrongfully convicted for to the murder of his cousin in 1997, was proven innocent and released from death row at Angola State Prison today.
After his cousin’s tragic murder, Mr. Thibodeaux was picked up by police and interrogated for nine hours, during which he was coerced into confessing to the crime. He was convicted almost solely on the basis of that conviction.

The Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana, along with the Innocence Project and a team of private pro-bono counsel took his case on appeal and obtained evidence that Mr. Thibodeaux was not the murderer. They conducted multiple rounds of DNA and forensic evidence analysis that confirmed that Mr. Thibodeaux’s confession was false, and he was in fact innocent of this horrible crime. The District Attorney’s Office in Louisiana participated in the effort to have Mr. Thibodeaux’s conviction overturned.

As Mr. Thibodeaux’s case shows, one of the biggest problems with the death penalty is the risk of executing an innocent person. And Mr. Thibodeaux is just one example -- the large numbers of exonerations nationwide demonstrate that states with the death penalty remain at grave risk of executing an innocent person. More than 140 people have been exonerated from death rows nationwide, and now 300 people have been exonerated through DNA testing. Experts agree that two men executed in Texas - Cameron Todd Willingham and Carlos DeLuna - were factually innocent. Death is final, it cannot be undone. The only way to eliminate the risk of executing an innocent person is to replace the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole.

Wrongful convictions happen for a myriad of reasons. Although DNA evidence exonerated Mr. Thibodeaux, it is only available for forensic testing in about 10% of serious felony cases. Mistaken eyewitness identification, false confessions, governmental misconduct and bad lawyering contribute to hundreds of wrongful convictions each year.

The public is beginning to recognize this problem, and states are increasingly moving away from the death penalty. So far, 17 states and the District of Columbia have replaced the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole. In Oregon, Governor John Kitzhaber has imposed a moratorium on executions and death sentences for his term. In California, which has the largest death row in the country, Proposition 34 is on the ballot this November to replace the death penalty with life without parole.

Not only would Prop 34 eliminate the very real risk of wrongful execution, but it saves the state billions of dollars. The Legislative Analyst’s Office, a nonpartisan group tasked with assessing the financial impact of laws in California, found that Prop 34 could save the state $130 million per year. A law review article by Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Arthur Alarcon and Loyola University Law Professor Paula Mitchell found that California has spent $4 billion on the death penalty since 1978, and is on track to spend $1 billion more over the next five years.

Further, Prop 34 would direct the savings to the SAFE California Fund, which distributes money to local law enforcement to help them solve crime. The SAFE fund could be used for crime labs and equipment and more investigators, which would lead to better evidence collection and analysis and fewer wrongful convictions in California.

The cost of executing an innocent person is simply too high to bear, anywhere, especially when there is an effective alternative the keep us all safe. At the Innocence Project, we have seen the terrible toll exacted by wrongful convictions, and we know that innocent people have been executed. We support Prop 34, and urge Californians to vote YES on November 6.

Written by Barry Scheck, Director of the Innocence Project.

Dealing With Death

September 26, 2012

Proposition 34 won’t just free up financial resources for education and law enforcement, it also will help to unclog our backlogged court system. That’s because the death penalty has overwhelmed the California Supreme Court in mandatory direct appeals. That’s one of the reasons that the current and past Chief Justices of the California Supreme Court support a vote to replace the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole.

Death penalty appeals are required by our constitution to go directly to the highest court in the state. A “YES” on 34 would put an end to that resource and time drain and allow regular people better and more frequent access to courts for all kinds of cases, civil and criminal cases, from adoption and family law to civil rights and consumer protection.

Santa Clara Law School Professor Gerald Uelemen summarized the problem of the death penalty’s burden for California Lawyer Magazine. Professor Uelmen tells us that we pass Prop 34 and “the maximum penalty becomes life in prison without parole, not only will it save trial court resources by eliminating the need for penalty trials, it also will allow the appeals in these cases to be rerouted to the courts of appeal for initial review instead of sending them directly to the state’s high (and very congested) court. That change would permit the California Supreme Court to grant more hearings in both civil and criminal cases, no doubt greatly reducing if not eliminating the current delays in processing civil and criminal appeals.”

Reposted from California Lawyer Magazine

Dealing with Death
by Gerald F. Uelmen
September 2012

Fully one-third of this year's published opinions involved death penalty appeals. Of the 29 capital cases, 25 resulted in affirmance of the death judgment and 1 in denial of a writ of habeas corpus (3 were reversed). The only objection to a death penalty affirmance was Justice Werdegar's dissent inPeople v. McKinnon (52 Cal. 4th 610 (2011)), arguing that the majority had applied the wrong standard in upholding the dismissal of a juror based on responses to a written questionnaire. All of the other death penalty affirmances were unanimous.
Of the three reversals, two were unanimous determinations that the trial court had erred in excusing jurors. (See People v. Allen, 53 Cal. 4th 60 (2011);People v. Pearson, 53 Cal. 4th 306 (2012); and People v. Brents, 53 Cal. 4th 599 (2012).)

Two years ago I noted that the capital cases consumed 46 percent of the court's output for the yearlong period, as measured by the 1,369 pages of death penalty opinions. This year's 29 death penalty opinions took up 2,102 pages, well over half of the year's total. I also measured the proportion of oral argument time consumed this past year by death penalty cases: 34 percent, in line with the share of total cases they represent.

These are just two measures of the resources that could be freed up if voters adopt the Savings, Accountability and Full Enforcement for California Act (the so-called SAFE initiative, aimed at repealing the death penalty) in November. If the maximum penalty becomes life in prison without parole, not only will it save trial court resources by eliminating the need for penalty trials, it also will allow the appeals in these cases to be rerouted to the courts of appeal for initial review instead of sending them directly to the state's high (and very congested) court. That change would permit the California Supreme Court to grant more hearings in both civil and criminal cases, no doubt greatly reducing if not eliminating the current delays in processing civil and criminal appeals.

Aside from judicial resources, it turns out that the greatest expense of the death penalty is the cost to incarcerate inmates on death row during the many years it takes to dispose of their direct appeals, state habeas petitions, and federal habeas filings. The Department of Corrections estimates that confining a prisoner on death row costs about two and a half times more than keeping a "lifer" in a maximum-security facility for the same amount of time. Currently, we spend approximately $100,000 per year per death row inmate. The inmates whose cases were reviewed this year range in age from 35 to 68 years, with an average age of 46. Nearly all of the appeals decided this year involved crimes that occurred in the early 1990s. Now the 25 condemned inmates who lost their appeals will begin bringing habeas corpus petitions in both state and federal court, a process that currently takes an average of twelve years.

The sense of frustration over the death penalty docket that pervades the court was on public display May 1, when the court withdrew its threat to impose monetary sanctions against Berkeley attorney James Thomson for filing a 519-page habeas petition on behalf of a client who has been on death row since 1980. Thomson responded that the lengthy petition was necessary to exhaust all claims that might be asserted later in a federal habeas petition. Currently 328 prisoners on California's death row are awaiting the initial appointment of counsel to handle their habeas petitions. As the court was told, the threat of sanctions would only increase the difficulty in finding lawyers willing to take these cases. -Gerald F. Uelmen

Proposition 34 and Troy Davis

September 21, 2012

By Franky Carrillo

Originally published in the Huffington Post.

Today marks the one year anniversary of the state of Georgia deciding that it was in the best interests of the people of Georgia to put Troy Davis to death.

This strikes home for me in many ways. Two years ago, both Troy and I were in prison for murder, even though the case against both of us had fallen completely apart. Six witnesses against me had recanted their testimony, and seven of the nine witnesses against him had recanted their testimony.

But one year ago, I had been set free, and Troy had been put to death.

The only real difference between me and Troy is that I had a fair judge who listened to the evidence and saw that my conviction was based on false eyewitness testimony; in Georgia, Troy did not have that.

My experience has taught me that one of the real problems with the criminal justice system is that it's so arbitrary. For me, there were good lawyers, good luck and good timing. In Georgia, Troy was not so lucky.

It's heartbreaking to know that our judicial system didn't allow for a correction in Troy's case. I can attest that the human voice has a powerful impact in the courtroom.

Watching witnesses stand there, swear an oath to God, and then condemn me for a murder I didn't commit was more than painful and devastating -- it was unfathomable. I was sixteen years old. I could not understand what was happening. Some days, I still can't.

So I know how Troy felt when that happened to him.

Years later, seeing those same people take an oath, and say they were mistaken, was more than healing for me. I believe it was healing for the witnesses as well -- to finally have the chance to tell the truth. And for our judicial system. It felt as though I was resurrected that day but I wasn't the only one. The truth was also resurrected.

Troy and the witnesses against him never got to know how we felt that day.

I worry about those witnesses; people who now have to live with the knowledge that they might have helped send an innocent person to die, and who will never get the chance to correct their mistake. When my conviction was overturned, the recantations from witnesses were crucial. It is hard to believe that those who had recanted in Troy's case were never given full opportunity to be heard.

I know that during the time Troy spent in prison, he lost his mother. During the twenty years I spent in prison, I lost my father.

So I know how Troy felt.

When I was released I was able to embrace my siblings, my son, my remaining family.

Troy never got to know how we felt that day.

Last April, I had the chance to meet Troy's sister Kim at a dinner here in Los Angeles. I felt her pain, and it broke my heart. I wish that his family's love and commitment, supported by millions of people all over the world, could have brought Troy home.

But I do know that Troy's family, like mine, never gave up on him. When you're unjustly imprisoned it is unbearably hard to know that the safeguards designed to keep the innocent from harm have all let you down. So I want Troy's family to understand how comforting and empowering it is to know that your family has not forsaken you. I want to thank them for standing firm by Troy's side.

Which brings me to how Troy must have felt to see so many people rally to his cause. I spent twenty years in prison, and for almost all of that time I was largely invisible to anyone outside of my cell. I can't possibly explain how it feels when free people take note of your circumstances, and stand up for you.

But finally, people noticed, and I know how Troy felt.

That is why I hope that the people who loved and supported Troy hear what I am about to say.

When you are in prison for murder, it is extremely difficult to be remembered even by the people who once knew you. It is extremely difficult to be taken seriously, especially when you are proclaiming your innocence and saying that the judicial system, a process our country is founded on, was mistaken. You are alone in a cell and you are challenging not the principles we rely on, but the implementation of those principles by our government. Your challenge is hard for most Americans to believe, let alone support.

The odds of having someone on the outside accompany you during your incarceration are small. The fact that so many people came to Troy's side speaks volumes about the kind of man he was and doubt surrounding his case. And speaks volumes about the kind of people his supporters are.

So let none of us forget that Troy Davis' legacy can live on with Proposition 34. It is a ballot initiative here in California which would replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. By replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole, we can eliminate the risk of ever executing an innocent person. We can save lives and we can save the state of California tens of millions of dollars a year. That's money that can be spent on investigating unsolved homicides across the state, money that can be spent on education, on services for victims, and on crime prevention.

There is so much room for improvement. Right now, 46 percent of homicides are unsolved in California. That's around 1,000 unsolved homicides a year. If we vote for and pass Proposition 34, $100 million a year can go to investigating unsolved crimes. With better investigations, who knows? Maybe someone like me wouldn't end up wrongfully imprisoned.

So please support Prop 34. Please remember that there are many, many more Troys and Frankys behind bars in this nation. Please do not give up the fight to save them. Because you save us all.

Frank Carrillo was exonerated of murder after 20 years in prison and is a major proponent of the YES on Prop. 34 Campaign.

Sacramento Bee Reverses 155-year Stand on Death Penalty, Endorses Prop 34

September 17, 2012

By Jeanne Woodford

Originally published in the Huffington Post.

When California voters pass Proposition 34 this November and replace the death penalty with life in prison with no possibility of parole, they will make history. But in the meantime, the Yes on 34 campaign is changing the minds of some powerful Californians by sharing the facts about the death penalty's steep fiscal and social costs.

For 155 years, the paper of record for the state capitol The Sacramento Bee has strongly supported the death penalty -- until last week.

The editorial board did not change its stance on the death penalty in absolute terms; they simply concluded that California's death penalty is hopelessly broken and cannot be fixed, and that it is "time to end the fiction."

The Bee called our state's death penalty a fiction because although taxpayers pay extravagantly for the nation's largest death row, few if any inmates are ever executed. Far more die of old age or suicide.

Because of the Bee's century-and-a-half of outspoken support of the death penalty, the editorial board chose to thoroughly and completely explain this change of heart by publishing a new editorial nearly every day last week. This series has effectively knocked down the arguments of Prop 34's opponents one by one, showing unequivocally that California cannot and will not ever have a functional death penalty. The only question is if the voters want to keep paying for the fiction.

In their first announcement of their endorsement for Yes on 34, entitled "Time to end the fiction of California's death penalty," the Bee explained that California pays exorbitantly more for death sentences than "a rock-solid sentence of life imprisonment with no chance of parole" and that every attempt to speed up the process has only cost taxpayers more money.

Nearly every day since that announcement, the Bee editorial board has taken on another argument against Prop 34.

Think the death penalty deters crime? Think again.
Equal justice for all? Not California's death penalty.
Want to speed up the system Texas-style? That would risk innocent lives, even if it were possible (it's not).
Still not sure how to vote on Prop 34? The Bee lays out why you should vote YES on 34.

The voters face an important decision this November, and the Bee rightly points out that this decision is not about whether death is right or wrong; it's about whether California can safely and efficiently administer a death penalty system that we can afford. In their extensive coverage, the Bee gives a clear and persuasive answer:

Vote YES on Proposition 34 to replace the death penalty with life in prison with no possibility of parole. Protecting innocent lives and saving millions for the state budget is justice that works for everyone.

Jeanne Woodford is the Official Proponent of Prop. 34 in California, the executive director of Death Penalty Focus, and the former warden of San Quentin State Prison.

California NAACP Endorses “YES on 34” – SAFE California Campaign

September 4, 2012

Hot off the presses: Nation’s oldest civil rights organization, clergy, and local leaders rally for YES vote on Proposition 34 to replace the state’s death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole.

At a press conference on Wednesday, the California National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), clergy, and local leaders expressed their support for the “YES on 34 – SAFE California Campaign.” Proposition 34 would replace the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole, direct savings to fund the investigation of more crimes, and ensure that an innocent person is never executed in California.

California’s death penalty system costs millions of dollars more each year than life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Reverend Lester Moseley, President of the Baptist Pastors/Minister’s Conference is a strong community leader that is adamantly in support of a YES vote on Prop. 34. Reverend Mosley said, “Not only do 46% of murders and 56% of rapes go unsolved in California, but murder cases with African American victims are less likely to be solved.”

The California Legislative Analyst’s office final report on Prop. 34 found that California would save $130 million every year by replacing the death penalty. Prop. 34 would direct $100 million of those savings to local law enforcement to solve more of those rape and murder cases. Ron Hasson, National Board member of the NAACP and President of the Beverly Hills and Hollywood NAACP chapter, shared Reverend Mosely’s sentiments, “We need to direct those funds to places where they will truly make a difference in our communities.”

Presiding Elder Reverend Norman Copeland of AME Churches worries that we may execute an innocent person. Reverend Copeland said, “Our system is broken. Innocent people are wrongly convicted every day in our communities. We will always run the risk of executing an innocent person with the death penalty. The truth is: a wrongful execution is one execution too many.”

Across the U.S., more than 100 innocent people have been sentenced to death and some have been executed. In California alone, hundreds of innocent people have been wrongfully convicted of serious crimes, 3 were sentenced to death. Paulette Gipson, President of the Compton NAACP Chapter, said “Proposition 34 means we will never execute an innocent person in California. Join me in voting YES on Proposition 34 this November.”

California’s death penalty system is broken beyond repair and currently houses the country’s largest death row population, with only 13 out of 900 death sentences carried out since 1978. By directing savings to community safety and eliminating the risk of executing an innocent person, Prop. 34 succeeds in delivering justice that works for everyone.   

366 Days Down, 68 More to Go

September 4, 2012

By Jeanne Woodford

Originally published in the Huffington Post.


One year ago, I helped launch the SAFE California Campaign -- now known as Proposition 34 -- to replace California's broken death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. Today, the Yes on 34 Campaign has grown into a statewide powerhouse with the support of some of the most respected organizations and leaders in the state.

Simply put: Californians recognize that replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole means justice that works for everyone.

When we started a year ago, SAFE California was just a handful of former law enforcement professionals teamed up with innocent men and women who had been wrongfully convicted and brave family members of murder victims who understood that the death penalty is broken beyond repair. My own experience was in the Department of Corrections -- over a 30 year career I rose through the ranks from a Corrections Officer working in California prisons to warden of death row overseeing executions, to eventually becoming director California's entire prison system.

In the early days of this campaign, I was joined by people like Gil Garcetti, former District Attorney from LA County, John Van de Kamp, former Attorney General and also a former DA from LA, and LaDoris Cordell, a retired judge from Santa Clara County. Between us we've seen every side of the criminal justice system in California. All of us had seen the risk of executing an innocent person and witnessed hundreds of millions of dollars spent on lawyers and appeals trying to prevent that risk.

We stood alongside amazing men and women who had proven their innocence after spending decades in prison for crimes they did not commit. People like Franky Carrillo and Obie Anthony who were given life sentences for murders they did not commit but were able to prove their innocence and had been freed from prison only months before.

And from the beginning, family members of murder victims have supported this campaign. People like Judy Kerr whose brother was brutally tortured and murdered and Lorrain Taylor whose twin sons were gunned down in a random act of violence. Judy and Lorrain support Prop 34 because they know first hand about the crisis of unsolved murders: the killers who took their loved ones have never been caught.

We came together from diverse perspectives with a common goal: replace the death penalty with justice that works for all Californians. Many people doubted we would even make it onto the ballot. We proved them wrong, submitting 800,000 signatures to qualify, thanks to the help of 5,000 volunteers.

Over the last year, that small group of supporters who had seen California's broken death penalty first-hand has grown to include powerful voices from all across California. The California Democratic Party, the League of Women Voters of California, the California Branch of the NAACP, the California Labor Federation, and the California Nurses Association are just a handful of the more than 1,200 organizations and community leaders to endorse Proposition 34.

Support for Prop 34 continues to grow because people understand that California's death penalty is broken beyond repair. California has only executed 1% of those sentenced to death in 34 years. The rest wait decades on death row in private cells with the best lawyers taxpayer money can buy, in conditions better than those of inmates for serving life without parole. They don't work and they don't pay into California's Victims Compensation Fund.

Proposition 34 will change all that. By replacing the death penalty with life in prison with no possibility of parole, Yes on 34 ensures that convicted killers stay behind bars forever with no hope of ever getting out. Proposition 34 makes convicted killers work in prison and pay restitution for victims' families' compensation -- as they should.

Proposition 34 will also save California hundreds of millions of dollars. The official, independent analysis of Proposition 34 says it will save $130 million each year for many years to come. We need that money for our kids schools and to keep our families safe.

As a law enforcement professional and as a mother, the most important question to me is how can we keep California communities safe? I was shocked to learn that 46% of homicides and 56% of reported rapes go unsolved every year. That's why Prop 34 creates the SAFE California Fund. $100 million over four years -- money that currently pays for death row appeal cases -- will be directed to local law enforcement to solve more rapes and murders. That means our public safety dollars can go where they are needed most, to bringing justice to all victims of violent crime and get dangerous people off our streets.

But of all the reasons to support YES on 34, the one that stays with me with the most is the risk of executing an innocent person. I'm reminded of this risk every time I see one of the wrongly convicted innocent men and women I work with. As long as we have the death penalty, we risk making the horrifying mistake of taking an innocent person's life.

So here we are, 366 days down. It took the work of thousands to get here and we are proud of the strong campaign we have built. But its time to get our heads in the game and look ahead: just 68 more days until the election on November 6. That's 68 days to educate every California voter about the realities of California's broken death penalty and the best way to ensure justice that works for everyone.

Are you up for the task? Click here to sign up to help!

The Endorsement Train

August 10, 2012

(Inspired by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff)

People all over the state are joining hands and starting an endorsement train for Prop 34 to replace the death penalty with justice that works for everyone. It's time to get on board and let this train keep on riding, riding on through to the November election.

Thousands of individuals and organizations have endorsed the initiative to replace the death penalty ever since we started gathering signatures. Once we landed on the ballot as Proposition 34, some true powerhouses have gotten on board the train.

Take for example the California Democratic Party. Representing 8 million registered voters, California Democrats have been committed to replacing the death penalty since it was added as a plank to the party platform in 2010. Last year, the party passed a resolution calling on Governor Brown to cut the death penalty from the state budget by converting death sentences to life in prison with no parole. Since the governor didn’t take action, the people are taking on the death penalty themselves – with the strong support of state Democrats.

But don’t think for a minute that replacing the death penalty is a partisan issue – YES on 34 is also endorsed by Green Party and Libertarian Party groups and the Libertarian nominee for President of the United States, Gary Johnson. Not to mention a few prominent Republicans like Ron Briggs and Don Heller, who wrote and advocated for the death penalty law in 1978.

Of course, trains don’t run without workers – so it should come as no surprise that the California labor movement is keeping the endorsement train running. The California Labor Federation, SEIU Local 721, and legendary labor organizer and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta have all come on board. While public workers are being laid off and seeing their pensions raided, it’s easy to see why these endorsers favor replacing a billion dollar government program that accomplishes nothing.

LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is ready to join in and ride the train. He signed on to the YES on 34 Campaign’s official ballot arguments, saying “We’ll never execute an innocent person with Proposition 34.” He’s riding with organizations like the California League of Women Voters, the California Branch of the NAACP, and Catholic Conference of Bishops.

So come on, ride this train y’all. You don’t need no money, don’t need no ticket. Sign on to the endorsement train yourself by clicking here:

Blog written by James Clark, Southern California Regional Organizer for YES on Prop. 34.