Saturday, September 01, 2007

Weinstein Report Mandates Abolishing Death Penalty

As everyone knows, I don't easily change my opinion, but, in this case, the article this week by Henry Weinstein on the operation of the death penalty in California has convinced me that capital punishment ought to be abolished in the state. It just doesn't work.

Weinstein's article led the L.A. Times on Thursday. It begins with the striking statistic that the death penalty system is so backed up that California would have to execute five prisoners a month for the next 10 years just to clear the prisoners already on death row. The average wait for execution is 17.2 years, and many more death row inmates have died of natural causes than the 13 who have been executed since the death penalty was restored in 1976.

My own view has been for a number of years that the death penalty should be reserved for particularly heinous crimes, such as assassination or murder of children by predators. But in a state as large as this, even restricting it would leave a large number of people with death sentences.

If there is going to be a death sentence, and a modicum of fairness, there must be some means found to expedite the appeal process, so that inmates are not left rotting on death row for years waiting for the courts to decide their fate, and final justice administered. More attorneys must become available to represent the defendants, and they must be far more adequately compensated than now. Weinstein's article is largely devoted to an article by U.S. 9th Circuit Court Judge Arthur L. Alarcon on reforms that might be undertaken.

However, it would require the electorate to act, and the justice system to be substantially revised, and it doesn't seem that that is likely to happen.

What it all boils to is that if something doesn't work, if present procedures create an intolerable situation (not to mention the families of murder victims being left to anguish in limbo for many years as to the final disposition of these cases), then the whole thing ought to go.

I was particularly impressed by Weinstein's quote of a UC Berkeley law professor, Franklin Zimring, who said, "We have found a way of honoring our ambivalence about the death penalty. We hand out a lot of death sentences and then, in many ways, are relieved when the system slows down."

But this installs hypocrisy in the system. If we cannot have a procedure that works, then it has to be changed, and the only plausible change that really presents itself is abolition.

One state that does have a "working" death penalty system is Texas, which has executed 402 inmates since 1976. But it appears that this has not been positive for that state, not resolving crime, and certainly harming the state's reputation worldwide. It frequently generates bitter controversy. Just this week, the governor, Rick Perry, commuted the death sentence of one inmate who was not actually the murderer, but only a possibly unwitting accomplice. Miguel Bustillo wrote ably about that case for the Times.

Weinstein has been writing death penalty stories for years, and it's taken me a woefully long time to thoroughly absorb them. But as Abraham Lincoln once said. "I will adopt new views just as soon as they are shown to be true views." In my case, on this issue, I wish I had not waited so long.

Weinstein is, by the way, one of the Los Angeles Times' most distinguished and hardest-working reporters. But his usefulness to the newspaper goes far beyond what he writes for it. He has often been a humanizing influence, consistently upholding ethics at the Times and, when appropriate, as in the case of the failed leadership of Times-Mirror CEO Mark Willes, not hesitating to speak out in the clearest possible way about what he thinks is wrong.

Having known him for a long time, my admiration for him is considerable. He hasn't always been as admiring of me, but that is probably justified.


Why is that they are doing so much more for public transportation in Orange County than they are here in Los Angeles County?

That question is posed this morning by an article in the L.A. Times' California section by David Reyes on plans to sharply expand Metrolink service in Orange County. By 2009, there will be Metrolink trains every half an hour between 5 a.m. and midnight between Fullerton and Laguna Niquel. Seven new locomotives and 59 more passenger cars have been ordered and a new Metrolink station will open this Tuesday in Buena Park.

Meanwhile, here in Los Angeles County, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky continue to preside over a do-as-little-as-possible policy. Unless they change, these officials should be sacked at the next election.



Blogger Miss Havisham said...

I am enjoying your writing veddy veddy much. Educational. Thought provoking.

I've tagged you for a meme (see my blog) If you're interested.

Miss Havisham's Tea Party

9/01/2007 8:47 PM  

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