Let The Voters Decide: Death Penalty or Life in Prison Without The Possibility of Parole

Posted on 20 June 2012

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By Jeanne Woodford
Death Penalty Focus

This November, California voters will make history as they decide -- for the first time ever -- between the death penalty and life in prison without the possibility of parole as the maximum punishment for murder.

There’s only one problem: prosecutors throughout the state are still seeking the death penalty. In fact, the AP just reported that five new people have been sent to death row this year.

That’s why thousands of Californians are joining together to call on local district attorneys to stop seeking death sentences until voters get a chance to weigh in on this broken system. And they are not alone: the Los Angeles Times has joined the call for prosecutors to hold on death penalty trials until voters have a chance to choose life without parole in November.

In their June 5 editorial, Don’t seek the death penalty, they explained:

[W]e favor replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. A measure on the November ballot, the SAFE California Act, would do exactly that, and we hope voters will support it. Meanwhile, California prosecutors, in particular L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, should stop pursuing capital cases until the voters have had their say.

Local District Attorneys, elected by each county in California, have the power to decide when to seek the death penalty and when to choose life without the possibility of parole. When they choose the death penalty, they start a process that costs millions of dollars and takes an average of 25 years to resolve. A life without parole trial can be over in a matter of weeks.

At the local level, counties usually pay $1 million extra for every death penalty trial -- over and above the cost of a trial seeking life without parole. That’s because death penalty trial is drastically more extensive -- and expensive. Extra costs include highly-trained lawyers and judges, special investigators and experts, and additional appeals. Death penalty trials take more than three times longer than trials seeking life in prison without the possibility of parole.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Once a person is sentenced to death, their housing and constitutionally-guaranteed appeals cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more than an inmate imprisoned for life without parole. That’s a big reason why 800,000 registered California voters signed on to put SAFE California on the ballot to stop the waste and replace the death penalty with a punishment of life without parole.

District Attorneys have a great deal of power and responsibility--and so do we. We must make the DAs stop and listen so they can accurately speak for ALL the people instead of catering to special interests.

Let your D.A. know you are watching -- and ready to make history at the ballot box in November. Remind your D.A. to wait for the voters to speak before starting any new death penalty trials.


Jeanne Woodford is the executive director of Death Penalty Focus, one of the largest nonprofit advocacy organizations in the nation dedicated to the abolition of capital punishment through public education; grassroots and political organizing; original research; media outreach; local, state and nationwide coalition building; and the education of religious, legislative and civic leaders about the death penalty and its alternatives.

The arguments in support of the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and erroneous. The Act would only make our prisons less safe for both other prisoners and prison officials, significantly increase the costs to taxpayers due to life-time medical costs, the increased security required to coerce former death-row inmates to work, etc. The amount “saved” in order to help fund law enforcement is negligible and only for a short period of time. Bottom line, the “SAFE” Act is an attempt by those who are responsible for the high costs and lack of executions to now persuade voters to abandon it on those ground. Obviously, these arguments would disappear if the death penalty was carried forth in accordance with the law. Get the facts at and supporting evidence at http://cadeathpenalty.webs.com.