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At the Center
Proposition 34: The Ethical Issues in Capital Punishment
Monday, Oct. 29, 2012
In a dialog today on California's Proposition 34, which would abolish capital punishment in the state, Ellen Kreitzberg, professor of law, and Lawrence Nelson, associate professor of philosophy, debated the merits of the ballot initiative. [Listen to the podcast]
Kreitzberg is the director of the Death Penalty College at SCU, a summer training course for lawyers assigned to represent defendants in capital cases. She outlined the economic argument against capital punishment, citing a report from the Legislative Analyst that estimated savings to the state from abolishing the death penalty at $1.3 million.
She also said that if the initiative does not pass, California will immediately begin building a new death row facility at a cost of $550 million. Finally, she pointed to a report from Arthur Alarcon, senior judge for the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, who is not opposed in principle to capital punishment. Alarcon writes, "Our research has revealed that $4 billion of state and federal taxpayer money has been expended administering the death penalty in California since 1978, with a cost in 2009 of approximately $184 million above what taxpayers would have spent without the death penalty…"
Kreitzberg said one could believe in the death penalty in the abstract but still feel that it is not worth the cost because there is no evidence that it makes us safer. Forty five percent of homicides and 55 percent of rapes in the state go unsolved. Resources saved by abolishing the death penalty could be focused on improving these statistics.
Nelson argued, however, that there is no long-term guarantee that monies saved through the initiative would go into law enforcement. Generally, Nelson urged that cost not be the main basis on which the death penalty is evaluated, a point on which Kreitzberg agreed.
Nelson focused on the question, Can the death penalty be defended ethically? Kreitzberg's answer was no. First, she argued that recent exonerations show the death penalty will inevitably be imposed on someone innocent, to which Nelson responded that no one executed in California has ever been shown to be innocent.
He pointed out that many people convicted of capital crimes are despicable; 90 of the 720 men currently on death row tortured their victims before killing them. "Some murderers richly deserve to be taken off the face of the earth," he said.