Why stretch and manipulate the truth?

Posted by Mike Farrell, DPF President on February 26th, 2010
Mike Farrell
Mike Farrell, President of Death Penalty Focus

Friday's Opinion piece by Gary Lieberstein and John Poyner in the San Jose Mercury News contains so many factual inaccuracies and politically inspired half-truths that I'm surprised they attached their names.

The tired-- and soundly demolished-- idea that state killing is a deterrent to violent crime only maintains currency because people who should know better -- and probably do -- continue to repeat it. They do so, it's clear, because all the other excuses for supporting capital punishment have been exposed as baseless.

Purporting to state "facts," Lieberstein and Poyner misstate and
twist them embarrassingly. Citing two infamous cases ¬ one based
solely on circumstantial evidence that made the retired "Hanging
Judge" of Orange County volunteer to testify for the defense ¬ they
claim that "Prosecutors have reserved the death penalty for the worst
crimes." They know better. California's death penalty law allows for
33 separately enumerated "special circumstances," not the 22 they
claim, and their range allows almost any murder to qualify for death
if an ambitious prosecutor feels it personally advantageous.

The statistics they cite, while not correct, indict their own thesis.
If the small percentage of death charges they claim are responsible
for the waste of $135 million in California's taxes every year ¬ as
reported by our state's Commission on the Fair Administration of
-- then over 95% of those convicted of murder serve out their
time in our state's prisons, clearly punished, but at a fraction of
the cost to the people.

They selectively cite one of two or three studies, all of which have
been soundly denounced by criminologists and statisticians, claiming
that killing people actually deters murders. It must be embarrassing,
even for these authors, to go through the gymnastics necessary to find
and reproduce a repudiated report while knowing that so many experts
have trashed it.

The assertion that great care is taken by their colleagues before
charging and prosecuting for death, while certainly the least one
might expect, seems to be contradicted by the fact that over 40% of
California's capital convictions are overturned on appeal. Their
claim that "a death verdict must be unanimous" conveniently ignores
the fact that no potential juror who opposes or has questions about
the appropriateness or efficacy of capital punishment is allowed to
sit on a capital case.

The statement that "There has never been a single finding of
prosecutorial abuse-- including an improper motive such as race, bias
or vindictiveness -- in the history of California's death penalty," is
astonishing -- and false. One need look only at the case of Thomas
, after whose execution Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th
Circuit Court of Appeals referred to him as "the first person in the
nation ever to be executed on the basis of a trial that an unrefuted
decision of a United States Court of Appeals had held to be

As to the question of cost, the authors try valiantly to skirt the
issue by attempting to cast blame on an overwhelmed and under-funded
defense bar with a juicy quote from a pro-death organization. The
cost of death penalty politics, which is what their opinion piece
reeks of, is outrageous. Taxpayers in California, as is the case in
the 34 other death-dealing states in our country, are paying two to
three times as much for every death case as they do for one that seeks
life in prison without possibility of parole. This fact was one of
the determinants in the recent decisions of New Jersey and New Mexico
to take state killing off the books. The simple expedient of
eliminating the death penalty in California would save us $1 billion
in the next five years -- this in a state with a $20 billion budget

Lieberstein and Poyner, whose job gives them the power to decide which
penalty to seek while capital punishment remains on the books, should
put away empty, tired and false clichés like the threat of "increased
violence" and truly consider the needs of the people. Their defense
of such an outdated, ineffective, inefficient, racist and hugely
expensive process demeans those they claim to serve.

Posted in Blog, Cost, Deterrence, Innocence


Comments are now closed for this item.

  1. Comment by itil certification, Mar 21st, 2010 9:24pm

    Today's era has been changed and i would like to say that Truth doesn't follow the truth itself.Its a blind faith that we have today.


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