California's voters continue to support the Death Penalty,
it's time to streamline...
Roy Ashburn] 12/27/05
recent spotlight on the impending execution of multiple-murderer
Stanley “Tookie” Williams
has once again highlighted the flaws in California’s
death penalty law. Williams was put to death at 12:01 a.m.
on Tuesday, after he was denied clemency by Governor Schwarzenegger.
Williams was convicted in 1981 of murdering four people and
sentenced to death. Yet 26 years after his victims took their
final breaths, the killer still lives. His lawyers have continued
to maneuver to thwart the sentence duly handed down by a jury
of his peers until the very end.
case demonstrates just how dysfunctional the death penalty
process is in California.
Mr. Asburn is a mermber of the California Senate representing Tulare, Kern,
Inyo, and San Bernardino Counties [go to Guest index]
endless appeals process for condemned killers now faces a backlog
of about 650 individuals living on death row. Since the death
penalty was reestablished in California in 1977 only eleven
executions have taken place, while 30 death row inmates have
died from natural causes. For the handful of executions that
have taken place, the average delay from the courthouse steps
to the chamber at San Quentin is 16 years.
California and Federal Law there is a specific, detailed and
lengthy appeals process that must be followed before an inmate
may be scheduled for execution. Adding to the delays is the
fact that the kinds of inmates who commit capital offenses
tend to be indigent and unable to pay for their own defense.
Those with some financial means usually exhaust their resources
before the appeal process is completed. As a result most death
penalty appeals fall on the shoulders of the Office of the
State Public Defender.
must then be prioritized, funded, and staffed along with the
myriad of other cases the public defender is tasked with, resulting
in still more delays.
old age was not what the voters had in mind when they reinstated
the death penalty in 1977. Delays and backlogs may serve the
desires of death penalty opponents; however the people of California
continue to demand the ultimate punishment for the most heinous
of crimes. Since 1977 California has experienced wide swings
in ideological trends and partisan preferences. During that
time however one policy stance has remained consistent: support
for the death penalty. The respected Field Poll has shown support
ranging from two-thirds to three-quarters of Californians.
Is it even
possible then to both fulfill the wishes of California’s
citizens and comply with the lengthy appeals mandated under
federal law? Clearly it is possible, as demonstrated in the
state of Texas. Compared to California's 11 executions in 30
years, Texas has carried out 355 capital sentences, during
the same time period. They have streamlined their death row
appellate process and eliminated other legal hurdles, without
denying any single killer his right to appeal.
punishment reform can be accomplished in California, which
is why I have co-authored Senate Bill 378 (Morrow). In the
mid 1990s the legislature created the California Habeas Corpus
Resource Center (HCRC) whose purpose is to represent indigent
death row defendants and get the appeal process moving. SB
378 builds on those efforts by nearly tripling the size of
the HCRC from its present 45 lawyers and staff to 127. The
bill also requires competency standards for the lead counsel
in death penalty appeals. This will minimize the all too common
last minute plea that "incompetent" lawyers represented
the defendant during his appeals. SB 378 also contains a dozen
or so other legal remedies, which will eliminate unreasonable
delays in the resolution of post conviction issues and reduce
the number of proceedings in capital cases.
If any criminal
punishment is to have a deterrent effect, such punishment must
be swift and certain. Until the death penalty is carried out
in such a fashion in our state, innocent Californians will
continue to be assaulted and murdered. That capital punishment
is a deterrent is beyond dispute. Since the State of Texas
made a serious effort to carry out the death sentence in the
1990s, the murder rate fell 60% while the national murder rate
fell just 33%.
The Stanley “Tookie” Williams
case has reminded us once again how violent murderers continue
to live out their lives on death row, reading and writing and
taking a deep breath each morning when they awake. At the same
time the families of their victims continue to shed tears for
the cruel and violent loss of their loved ones. It is not about
any one killer and the regret he may have for horrors committed
long ago. It is instead time to send a message to potential
killers in our midst. It is time to show that punishment for
the most brutal murders will be swift and severe. Our families
deserve nothing less.
represents the 18th Senate District including Tulare, Kern,
Inyo, and San Bernardino Counties. CRO