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Is California’s Death Penalty At A Crossroads?

Aired 3/7/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.

Guests: State Senator Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon)

Jan Stiglitz, Professor, California Western School of Law


A September 2011 Field Poll of California voters found interesting results about people's support for the death penalty.

While 68 percent of voters favor retaining the death penalty for serious crimes, 48 percent of voters said they would prefer the state issue sentences of life in prison without parole over the death penalty. Forty percent said they prefer the death penalty.

State Senator Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon) has introduced a bill that would speed up the death penalty process by eliminating the automatic appeals that are currently heard only by the California Supreme Court.

He has also proposed an amendment to the California Constitution that would allow appeals to be heard by the State Court of Appeals.

In an interview for KPBS Television's "Evening Edition," Anderson said his bill is aimed at speeding up the death penalty process only for the most extreme cases, when it is clear the accused murderer is guilty.

“We don’t want to execute people who are innocent," he said. "We’re not talking about your average murders, we’re talking about the most heinous murders, the serial killers where there’s overwhelming evidence.”

Anderson added that everyone would still go through a federal appeals process, and said if there are "extenuating circumstances," the accused would still go through the state appeals process.

“We’re not eliminating the appeal, we’re just saying if you have a knife in your hand, you kill 10 people, we have it on video tape and you admit that you did it, you can’t tie up and slow down the process,” he said.

While the SAFE campaign has turned in 800,000 signatures for a November ballot initiative eliminating the death penalty, Anderson would not say whether he would support replacing death penalty sentences with life in prison without parole.

The death penalty in California has traveled a bumpy road. The U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1972. There were no executions for 20 years, until the 1992 execution of San Diego murderer Robert Alton Harris. In the years since, lethal injection became the method used to put prisoners to death. That process ran into trouble when no doctors would administer the drugs.

There have been no executions in California since 2006. Albert Greenwood Brown, a sexual predator and murderer, was to be put to death in September 2010. The execution was stayed because of the limited supply of drugs for lethal injection.

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Avatar for user 'CatBurke'

CatBurke | April 4, 2012 at 9:43 p.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

Please let me introduce you to Saskia Savana Burke!

My 18 year old daughter, Saskia Burke, was viciously stabbed to death in my home on 12-20-11, by a man who came to kill not only MY ENTIRE FAMILY, but the many children who would be staying with us over Christmas! He had planned his attack, and came armed with an arsenal of weapons. I will forever hear Saskia's screams of terror and pain as he slashed and stabbed her to death! That we should be concerned with William Gary Simpson's "constitutional rights" or killing him "humanely" is absurd! The constitution did not protect US - and there was nothing "humane" in the way he savagely stabbed Saskia to death: Stabbed my husband: Stabbed anothers child! Everyone who loved Saskia has become a victim unto him! What you cannot grasp, what you cannot comprehend - is that he TRULY KILLED US ALL THAT MORNING! But I guess, until that type of horror and pain is afflicted upon you - you can only speak on things you cannot possibly, truly understand! You only look at the one victim who died - not at all the victims who still exist, but are no longer capable of living! I mourn the loss of all three of my children, my husband - and myself. We were once the Burkes... Now, we are ALL lost to this life! He has destroyed us, by taking every conceivable happiness from us, FOREVER, in this lifetime!

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