In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a criminal known as “The Trailside Killer” committed several murders in Marin and Santa Cruz counties, near San Francisco. For David Carpenter, who was sentenced to death for these crimes and is now the oldest inmate on California’s death row at age 86, there is currently a slim possibility that he will either be released or executed for his crimes. With the passage of Prop 62 this fall, both of these possibilities will be forever extinguished.
California voters in this November’s election will be given two competing solutions for the question of what to do about the death penalty in California. While states are allowed to use the death penalty, they are not required to do so; 18 states and the District of Columbia currently have no form of the death penalty on their books. California has executed 13 inmates since reinstating the death penalty in 1978, with the last one being Clarence Ray Allen, who spent 23 years on death row before being executed in 2006.
The primary argument against the death penalty for some is that it is very costly to implement, in terms of the lengthy appeals process and the specialized care that is provided for those on death row. Prop 66 seeks to address these concerns, without doing away with the death penalty itself. By limiting or “Reforming” the appeals process, the Courts will be freed up to handle other matters, instead. A structural shift to housing accommodations which are more in-line with the rest of California’s prison population is where the promised savings will come into play.
On the other hand, ending the death penalty altogether is the goal of Prop 62. After a decade of inmates being sentenced to death in California, without any executions actually taking place, this approach seeks to bring closure to the practice of taking lives in the name of justice. California’s exit from performing executions happened long before Hospira, the makers of sodium thiopental–an anesthetic that is part of the three-drug cocktail used in lethal injections–stopped making the drug entirely.
As a result of this move, Texas, which has over 300 inmates currently on death row, only has enough of the drug to carry out two more executions and Ohio has only enough for one. Whether California, which currently allows for lethal injections, has any of the drug available for itself is unknown, but it would be impossible to obtain any new supplies, even if it wanted to resume executions. Proposition 62 could be a bow to the reality that execution through lethal injection will soon become a thing of the past, notwithstanding some states’ attempts to identify a replacement for the drug itself.
As a state with a large budget surplus, California is not driven by economic necessity in reconsidering the death penalty’s future in the state. Both measures are promising to save the state large sums of money, which no doubt makes them appealing to people who may otherwise have no qualms about what is sometimes described as “the ultimate punishment.” However, the release of more than 150 inmates nationwide from death row since 1973 suggests that death row cases are not free from human error. After an inmate has been put to death, no late discovery of exculpatory evidence can undo the punishment given. By approving Prop 62, California voters could forever remove the very small possibility of the state carrying out a wrongful execution.
If you or someone you know is sitting on death row, or is awaiting trial on charges that could lead to the death penalty being imposed, you owe it to yourself to find out what the passage of one or both of these Propositions in November could mean for you. Former prosecutor Ambrosio E. Rodriguez has significant experience in this field, and he can work with prosecutors to seek relief from the courts. To learn more, contact a Los Angeles criminal attorney today.