CA death penalty system 'dysfunctional'

June 30, 2008 11:59:28 PM PDT
A report commissioned by the state legislature finds California's death penalty system is on the verge of collapse.

The lethal injection chamber at San Quentin is a room only 13 people in the state have used since 1976. While the number of executions in the state is low, the number of those awaiting execution is extremely high at 673.

"Clearly in my opinion, it's a broken, dysfunctional system," said State Senator Gloria Romero (D) from Los Angeles.

Members of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, a non-partisan advisory board, released a scathing report on Monday criticizing the state's death penalty system. The report calls it expensive and inefficient.

"Does the death penalty give us a safe community, and I think the answer to that question is no," said Professor Ellen Kreitzberg J.D., from Santa Clara University.

Ellen Kreitzberg, a law professor at Santa Clara University, says the report points out exactly what she's thought all along -- that people should be incarcerated for life, not killed.

"If we cannot do it fairly and we are spending all this money that can be better used, it's time to step back and say, 'Do we really want to continue with the death penalty?'" said Kreitzberg.

The report claims the state spends $117 million annually on death row inmates' trials. That's about $175,000 per person.

"It's a very, very small amount of money in terms of the overall criminal or judiciary budget," said Jim Fox, the San Mateo County district attorney.

Jim Fox, disagrees with the reports numbers, even though he was on the advisory board. In his 25 years as San Mateo county D.A., he's sent 14 people to death row, including Donald Beardsley, who was executed in 2005. He thinks the system is fair.

"I am unaware of any evidence that an innocent person have been executed or have received the death penalty in California," said Jim Fox.

What Fox agrees is flawed is the delays post conviction. In California, an inmate sits on death row for about 20 years. Fixing that, means hiring more attorneys, which isn't in the state's budget.


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