Lance T. Izumi - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research
Izumi is Director of Education Studies for the Pacific
Research Institute and
Senior Fellow in California Studies. He is a leading expert in
education policy and the author of several major PRI studies.
[go to Izumi index]
Scott Peterson needn’t fear the death sentence...
[Lance T. Izumi] 11/18/04
to the TV talking heads or read press stories and the question
everyone seems to be pondering is whether Scott Peterson
will get the death penalty. There is huffing and puffing about
the class and race issue, i.e. whether a good-looking affluent
white male will actually receive the ultimate penalty. The
reality is that the death penalty in California has become
irrelevant because it’s virtually never carried out.
According to a Reuters report, since it was re-instated by the
state in 1977, 629 criminals have been sentenced to die. Between
then and now, only 10 of these criminals have been executed.
In other words, just 1.6 percent of criminals condemned to death
have had their sentence carried out. Not exactly odds that would
make anyone sweat.
death row wait decades for their date with the Grim Reaper.
Anderson, the last man executed in California,
sat on death row for 20 years. Jill Brown, warden at San Quentin
state prison in Marin County, says, “It’s not unusual
for a man to be in here 20 years before an execution is carried
out.” Between 1977 and 2002, the average time nationwide
between sentencing and execution was around 10 years, or roughly
half the time that a death-row inmate spends in Ms. Brown’s
facility. Of course, there are those who believe the long delays
of the Prison Law Office, which represents inmates, argues, “If we’re going to kill somebody, we better
be [expletive deleted] sure that the person actually did it and
that he received a fair trial.” Putting an innocent person
to death is something that no death-penalty proponent wants,
but the issue is whether it should take decades to establish
actual guilt and the fairness of proceedings. Many legal experts
and much of the public would answer “no.”
“I think the process takes longer than it needs to,” observes
Dana Gillette, a top state Justice Department official who oversees
death penalty cases. Gillette believes that rather than the average
of 20 years for death-penalty judicial reviews, the review process “could
be done in five to seven years.” Gillette pointedly notes
that no one in California history has ever received the death
penalty and been later cleared of his alleged crime.
executions and more inmates on death row, the state is planning
an expensive $220 million expansion of San
Quentin’s death row – a project that exasperates
many taxpayers. Jack Wilkinson, former president of the Marin
realty association, snaps: “So few people are executed
at San Quentin that we will be building one of the most expensive
waiting rooms in the United States. Indeed, people have a greater
chance of being killed on the highway than they do at San Quentin.”
carry out executions in a prudent and timely manner defeats
of the penalty. Criminals aren’t deterred
by a penalty that is hardly ever carried out. Victims and their
families never receive the justice promised by the legal system.
Finally, the societal statement about the evil of certain crimes
and the importance of meting out punishment that fits the crime
No matter what happens to Scott Peterson, the state and federal
judicial review processes of death penalty cases must be reformed.
Justice delayed is justice truly denied. CRO
2004 Pacific Research Institute