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Future Uncertain For Death Penalty In California


Aired 1/27/11

There are more than 700 prisoners currently on death row in California, but legal challenges have prevented any executions from happening over the last five years. We discuss the current status of the death penalty in California, and hear the latest arguments for and against capital punishment.

There are more than 700 prisoners currently on death row in California, but legal challenges have prevented any executions from happening over the last five years. We discuss the current status of the death penalty in California, and hear the latest arguments for and against capital punishment.


Bonnie Dumanis, San Diego County District Attorney

Alex Simpson, litigation coordinator for the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law

Mike Farrell, president of Death Penalty Focus, which is an organization dedicated to the abolition of capital punishment. Mike is probably best known for his role as Army Captain B.J. Hunnicutt on the TV show M.A.S.H

Marc Klaas, father of Polly Klaas, who was kidnapped and murdered in 1993 at the age of 12. He established the Klaas Kids Foundation in 1994 as a resource for protecting children

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Avatar for user 'getharveys'

getharveys | January 27, 2011 at 10:04 a.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

A few points:
Unlike Europe or other "civilized" nations the US has no history of using death sentences as a means to quell political dissent, punish political opponents or as a means for ruling over the populace at large.

DNA-based evidence allows society to punish the guilty beyond all reasonable doubt with a death sentence.

Prisons jammed pack with lifers are very dangerous places for the jailers and the prisoners alike. We can reduce that lifer population through a reasonable and careful deployment of the death penalty.

Lastly, the death penalty is a deterrent in that the perpetrator in question will never re-offend inside or outside of prison. The death penalty is about the ultimate punishment for society’s most heinous and repeat criminal offenders.

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Avatar for user 'philosopher3000'

philosopher3000 | January 27, 2011 at 10:29 a.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

First, I need to address the comments of 'getharveys':

"Unlike Europe or other "civilized" nations the US has no history of using death sentences as a means to quell political dissent, "

Obviously, you have not done your homework.

Over the past 236 years, the US has killed Native American Indians, African-Americans before and after slavery, other minorities, and I'm sure poor whites as well, base upon unjust laws that were later reformed or over-turned. Those people were killed because they were 'other', 'savages', 'slaves', 'aliens', etc. Their punishment was unjust, and political.

The US is currently holding 200+ prisoners in Guantanamo Bay without charge or trial (and who knows how many more in 'black-sites' like Abu Graibe), and although they may not be formally 'executed', many have attempted 'suicide', or been brought back to life after water-boarding temporarily stopped their heart. It would be hard to argue that these are not political.

"DNA-based evidence allows society to punish the guilty beyond all reasonable doubt with a death sentence."

Since the advent of DNA-evidence, hundreds of death-penalty convicts have been cleared, and most released. They to were convicted beyond 'reasonable doubt', but humans are fallible, and our systems magnify that flaw. There is no such thing as 'without doubt'.

Prisons are often the first place many inmates can feel safe or well treated. (see my next post), and prison guard is a voluntary position.

Although it is true that a dead man can commit no more crime, neither does a life-prisoner in a well secured jail, and a dead innocent man has no more life.

Finally, the panel of guests clearly addressed the fact that, in taking life, the State innately implies the sanctioning of death as an acceptable penalty for injustice, and that, at least in the actions of killers, this spurs an INCREASE in capital crime.

And as the movie 'SEVEN' dramatically shows, the murderers at last brings us down to their level and makes us like them, wrathful killers.

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Avatar for user 'philosopher3000'

philosopher3000 | January 27, 2011 at 10:50 a.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

I understand Marc Klaas, father of Polly Klaas, who was kidnapped and murdered in 1993 at the age of 12. I do not have children, and I can only hope that I never experience that kind of tragedy. I imagine if I did, that I would rest at nothing until justice was served. However, I would not require others to do the deed of killing my families murderer, were their no doubt in my mind.

But Mr. Klass makes the argument that in the case of his daughter's killer, death is a punishment. I disagree.

Regardless of all the other arguments against the death penalty, in my opinion, death is far too easy. True Punishment requires life.

Death is a release. I imagine in the mind of most murders, insane or otherwise, death is peace.

As a thinking human being, I can imagine no worse fate than a long life in a dungeon surrounded by the worst criminals and psychopaths. I would go insane from boredom alone.

If you believe in an 'after-life', as Christians do, where the guilty spend eternity in hell, then keeping them in hell on earth gives them no salvation, eternity awaits. But, I for one, don't believe in hell.

Death is no punishment. Hell is punishment. Punishment requires life.

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Avatar for user 'getharveys'

getharveys | January 27, 2011 at 11:35 a.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

Europe has a long history of despots, dictators, kings, queens, tsars, etc. who used the death penalty as means of ruling over its population is my point. Thus European aversion to the death penalty, given that background, is at least understandable. Mistreatment of ethnic minorities is a stain on American history to be sure but does not rise to the level of Stalin's 'purges' or Tsar Nicholas' regular deadly crackdown against Russian dissidents or even Franco's death squads against Spanish communists, socialists, unionists and other 'undesirables'. A Lifer in prison may experience a miserable existence but still escapes the fate their victims could not escape.

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Avatar for user 'rgough2'

rgough2 | January 27, 2011 at 11:47 a.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

I Fully agree with philosopher3000, but only take them to an island and let them fend for themselves. Death is the easy way out! they will never have to think about what they did to that human if they are put down. Also they should let the victims family get 5 minutes with them to do anything they want to do. That would be justice.

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Avatar for user 'jv333'

jv333 | January 27, 2011 at 2:23 p.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

i have always thought that to put violent murderers to death in a humane and peacefull way ... putting them to sleep and then have them drift off to permanent sleep...this is much too good for them. i think it is a worse punishment to live in a prison and live with their heinous act or acts in a conscious state for all of their remaining days. just maybe they will find a way to contribute something to society before their lives are over. there are just some bad apples out there despite their upbringing; however, one has to think that a child who grows up in violent, abusive surroundings will likely be prone to commit a violent act in their life.

let's also keep in mind that more countries do not practice or have abolished the death penalty than those that impose it...58 maintain the death penalty in both law and practice. 95 have abolished it. 9 retain it for crimes committed in exceptional circumstances (such as in time of war)....35 permit its use for ordinary crimes

the other concern is the fact that we have freed many on death row who were innocent...which begs the many innocents have we executed? even if the answer is one, that is too many. so to prevent any such errors in the future and for all of the reasons addition to less cost to house lifers than to execute, i think we need to abolish the death penality altogether.

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Avatar for user 'SDCyclist'

SDCyclist | January 27, 2011 at 4:15 p.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

Here's a fact for you: There isn't a single shred of evidence that has ever been produced that supports the idea the the death penalty has ANY impact on rates of crime. Simply put, the death penalty has zero-statistical impact on someone's choice to commit a crime, and, has zero impact on crime rates. If someone drags out the old idea that it's a "deterrent" then please understand that's there personal opinion and it has NO basis in fact. It doesn't work. Period. Innumerable scientific studies have been completed and not a single one of them ever concludes that the death penalty serves any worthwhile purpose. Meanwhile, it remains the law and hundreds of people are put to death (in places like Texas) who aren't guilty. Now speaking personally, I think the death penalty is beyond barbaric, completely disgusting, and abysmally shameful. If you believe that it's a just punishment for any crime then I feel sorry for you.

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Avatar for user 'getharveys'

getharveys | January 28, 2011 at 5:20 p.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

The deterrent effect is that particular murderer will not kill again inside or outside of prison if put to death. That fact is truly unassailable. Deterrence has never been an argument in favor of the death penalty on my part. Barbaric is a sex offender released only to murder a Lake Poway jogger; barbaric is a mass murderer of 5 who cannot be put to death as it would be 'cruel and unusual punishment'; barbaric is stacking lifers on top of one another in a state prison so they can kill, deal drugs, rape other inmates, that is barbaric. No one need feel sorry anyone who believes some crimes require the perpetrator loses his right to life when they murder. Thank you and good day!

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Avatar for user 'thersant'

thersant | January 28, 2011 at 9:10 p.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

As I read the posts above I note agreement that the death penalty is not a deterrent for new criminals. It does keep properly convicted killers from repeating.

Yet if a properly convicted killer kills during his/her life sentence then it only deters killings outside the prison. Thus, again, it is not a deterrent in its own right but only by virtue of protecting the public from escaped Lifers.

Recidivism amongst released convicts, such as the ones referenced by getharveys, is greater or lesser depending on the astuteness of review panels. It is also inevitable given the nature of human decisions regarding humans. Never a perfect science, at least to date.

Death penalties clearly have a 100% success rate at preventing recidivism among the guilty and the innocently convicted as well.

So if deterrence is not the benefit desired and recidivism is inevitable to a greater or lesser extent let us focus on making it lesser and avoiding the injustices and expenses expounded so well by philosopher3000.

Thank you and good day.

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Avatar for user 'getharveys'

getharveys | February 2, 2011 at 1:50 p.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

A "Lifer" kills...point, game, set...

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Avatar for user 'GeraldFnord'

GeraldFnord | March 15, 2011 at 11:03 a.m. ― 6 years ago

I can't shake the feeling that many of us are gluttons for [other peoples'] punishment.

More fairly, both sides talk past each other: one side feels that the universe is out-of-joint if someone guilty of murder is not killed for it, while the other side gets no such feeling of satisfaction, cannot understand the 'purification' morality standing behind such, and is in fact frightened of a State that can legally kill in cold blood (though they may support its right to kill in notional self-defence on a battlefield).

That is to say, many on my side of the issue can't understand the feeling that pro--death-penalty sorts have that it is a positive good in itself. I don't feel so---and feel that if someone had to be killed for everyone else's safety, say in a society without prisons, it were best done with regret and considered not as a success but as the least bad failure available---but I think I understand the capitalists (to coin a term): society is not whole if a killer should live, much as some among my ancestors evidently believed that society were not whole were a disobedient son to live.

The problem is that a single act (killing a woman found guilty of a crime who is no immediate danger to anyone, possessing 28.4 g of cannabis, paying taxes) can have many aspects, each of which is evaluated by any given judge. If some fraction of those aspects, weighted by importance, is considered good or bad, the act is seen so. Different judges, different weights, even different willingness to even judge some aspects.

I like Jonathan Haidt's work on the moral underpinnings of liberals and conservatives; I don't think it absolutely definitive, but a very good start in addressing these and similar issues. I think it can help us understand each other better even if it can't stop our talking past each other, at least well enough that we can consider each other as quite possibly being fellow-citizens of good will who disagree with each other, as opposed to bad-faith actors bent on being monstrous.

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