The Orange County Register

The Time Is Right for California to Ditch the Death Penalty

Botched execution raises ethical objections as taxpayers waste billions on death row

Last month condemned Oklahoma death row inmate Clayton Lockett was pronounced dead from an apparent heart attack more than 40 minutes after his botched execution had begun.

During that time, horrified eyewitnesses watched as Lockett writhed on the gurney, gasped, and even spoke after doctors had declared him unconscious.

This bungled execution has breathed new life into the debate over the death penalty, prompting other states to examine their own protocols and question whether or not capital punishment is worth the costs. California should be no exception.

There are 746 inmates on death row in California. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, California has only executed 13 inmates.

Roughly seven times more death row inmates have died from natural causes, suicide, or were killed in other ways than have actually been executed in California. Nevertheless, California taxpayers have paid more than $4 billion to have the death penalty in the state according to a study published in the 2011 Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review.

The last time California executed a prisoner was in 2006. That same year, a federal judge halted all executions in California on the grounds that the state's three-drug lethal injection protocol risked causing inmates too much pain and suffering before death, which would be a violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

In 2013, a California state appeals court scrapped the state's attempt to update its lethal injection procedures and California's death penalty has remained in limbo ever since.

It's not just California that has faced problems with its lethal injection protocol, however. When manufacturers of lethal injection drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration stopped selling the drugs for executions in 2011, states such as Missouri, Mississippi, Texas, Florida and Ohio began performing executions with new, essentially experimental drugs from unknown sources, resulting in a number of legal challenges over the constitutionality of these drugs and protocols.

Meanwhile, housing prisoners on death row continues to cost California taxpayers $184 million more per year than it would if those same prisoners had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

That's because everything about the death penalty is significantly more expensive.

According to the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review study, the heightened security practices mandated for death row inmates cost more than $100,000 per prisoner every year. The state also pays up to $300,000 for attorneys to represent each capital case inmate during his or her appeals process.

What's more – the least expensive death penalty trial in the history of the state still cost $1.1 million more than the most expensive case seeking life without parole.

It's true that the prisoners on death row in California are often the worst of the worst offenders and deserve the most severe punishment for their crimes.

However, eliminating the death penalty and requiring them to serve the rest of their lives in prison without the possibility of parole would still guarantee that they would die behind bars.

If California abolished the death penalty, taxpayers wouldn't have to keep wasting billions of dollars on death row. The state could also avoid the controversy and legal challenges that would accompany a change to its lethal injection protocol.

And citizens could rest easy knowing that no innocent person will accidentally be put to death.

According to a new study in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 4 percent of offenders on death row in the United States are innocent.

With worries over innocent people who could be killed by the state, botched executions, experimental lethal injection drugs and concerns over the cost and effectiveness of the death penalty, the time is right for California to get rid of capital punishment for good.

Lauren Galik is a policy analyst at Reason Foundation. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register.

Lauren Galik is Director of Criminal Justice Reform





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