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Gil Garcetti: California's death penalty doesn't serve justice

Gil Garcetti, district attorney of Los Angeles County from 1992 to 2000, responds to a March 25 Times Op-Ed article on California's death penalty. If you would like to share your thoughts on a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed and would like to participate in Blowback, here are our FAQs and submission policy.  

Lethal

Retired Superior Court Judge Donald A. McCartin expresses clear and persuasive reasons  why California should abolish the death penalty. I was the Los Angeles County district attorney for eight years and chief deputy district attorney for four years. During those years, I was responsible for my office's decision to seek the death penalty in dozens of cases. In each case, the facts were so horrific and compelling that I permitted the prosecutors to pursue the ultimate punishment. 
 
Part of a prosecutor’s responsibility is to seek justice and retribution for the victim of a murder. Of special concern throughout my 32 years as a prosecutor was the effect of a particular crime on the family and close friends of the victim. To me, those family members and friends also became victims of the crime.
 
Many of these victims were happy when my office sought the death penalty and if the jury returned a death verdict, a result that never came quickly. It was unusual for a capital case to be resolved within a year from the date of the original crime; two to three years was not uncommon. The living victims of a particular crime might think that a death verdict provides closure, but for most, there was no such closure. These victims instead faced years of torment thanks to the incredibly lengthy legal review process required for all cases in which the death penalty is imposed.
 
A case in point is the punishment imposed on Rodney James Alcala, whom Judge McCartin sentenced to death more than 30 years ago. What is the reason to have a death penalty when Alcala still sits on death row awaiting execution for murders he committed decades ago? Is this justice? Is this really fair to the family and friends of the murdered 12-year-old Robin Samsoe and his four other victims?
 
California's death penalty does not and cannot function the way its supporters want it to. It is also an incredibly costly penalty, and the money would be far better spent keeping kids in school, keeping teachers and counselors in their schools and giving the juvenile justice system the resources it needs. Spending our tax dollars on actually preventing crimes, instead of pursuing death sentences after they've already been committed, will assure us we will have fewer victims such as Robin Samsoe.

-- Gil Garcetti

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Photo: The death chamber in California's lethal injection facility at San Quentin State Prison. Credit: Eric Risberg / Associated Press

 

Comments () | Archives (19)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Ed Brazas

Not a death penalty if you don't use it in a timely manner.

Um no

So the obstruction--some might call it deliberate, endless obstruction--of a statutory penalty justifies the demise of the death penalty? In the name of "fairness" to the victims and their families?

I don't think so. The silenced victims deserve better than to be cast aside by lawyers and former officials who impose thir own qualms on the process to the detriment of us all.

Opponents seek endless habeas writs years--no decades--past the trial leading the US Supreme Court in one case (Robert Alton Harris) to tell the 9th Circuit "no more writs."

Of course its expensive when there is no finality and writs and appeals having nothing to do with actual innocence can be filed without end.

Perhaps instead of conceding defeat, we could streamline the route to enforcement even more. That is what the People have asked for repeatedly. There is no reason it shouldn't happen.

I vote for justice to the victims. One appeal. One writ. All done within 5 years. No more challenges to the method either. We adopted injection to appease the people upset at hangings, and electrocution, and now they are litigating the formula, the dose..it never stops.

Opponents don't care about the victims. Their litigation is transparent obstruction.

Deal with the opponents, not the penalty.

bill lane

the best argument against the death penalty is cops and district attorneys routinely frame the accused. they make up evidence all the time, also withhold evidence.

so a lot of times -- well not a lot but it does happen -- innocent people end up on death row.

the system is too corrupt, the usa is way too much of a police state, locking up 10% of its adults (in some form or other) for it to be ok for us to have a death penalty.

the properly run countries (in terms of reining in the police and d.a.'s) in europe that don't have the death penalty -- would be able to have it without it being dangerous to the innocent. but not the usa. the implementation of justice is way too corrupt here because of politics (the prison guard unions, cop unions, lawyers pay for politicians to be elected).

ESTELLA DAVIS-HARRIS-WALKER-DAVIS

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT WAS MEANT TO BE BORNE BY SOCIETY. IT IS A WAY OF FORGIVENESS BY SOCIETY. IN THE ACCOUNT OF CAIN KILLING HIS BROTHER, ABLE, THE LORD CLAIMED VENGEANCE. CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IS INSTITUTED BY SOCIETY AND IS BORNE BY SAME. CAPITAL PUNISHMENT FOR CAPITAL CRIMES OR OFFENSES ARE LESS ABOUT JUSTICE THAN OTHER CLASSES OF CRIMES, SIMPLY BECAUSE TO TAKE A LIFE FOR A LIFE DOES NOT ALWAYS LEAVE A PLUS OR A FAVORABLE SITUATION FOR ANYONE. AN EYE FOR AN EYE SITUATION DOES NOT ALWAYS RESEMBLE JUSTICE AND CERTAINLY NOT FAIRNESS IN THE EYES OF ALL. SATISFYING ALL IS NOT THAT EASY. A MAN HAS BUT ONE LIFE TO GIVE OR TAKE IN THE CASE OF CAPITAL OFFENSES. BUT, THE VICTIMS MAY BE MASS OR MANY. AS IT TURNS OUT FORGIVENESS IS THE SOUGHT RESULT, BUT, FORGIVENESS BY ALL. THESE WERE TO SERVE AS EXAMPLES TO OTHERS TO NOT TO DO THE SAME MUCH LIKE IN THE CASE OF THE CRUCIFICTION OF CHRIST. THERE IS AN EYE FOR AN EYE LOGIC, BUT THERE IS ALSO A TURN THE OTHER CHEEK LOGIC, ALSO AND WE ARE LEFT TO DEAL WITH BOTH SITUATIONS. IT IS STILL NOT THE PERFECT SOLUTION FOR THE PITFALLS OF A SOCIETY, BUT, IT IS STILL BETTER THAN THE JUNGLE LOGIC FIT FOR BEASTS, ONLY.

Anor Grimm

Release all the criminals on the streets. That will solve everything.

Melissa

Estella Davis-Harris-Walker-Davis, Uh? Totally did not understand your point. And screaming it in capital letters didn't help it make more sense. Just sayin"...

Dan Heredia

Not a death penalty if you don't use it in a timely manner.

Posted by: Ed Brazas | March 25, 2011 at 06:06 PM

California's death penalty does not and cannot function the way its supporters want it to. It is also an incredibly costly penalty: Gil Garcetti

I'd volunteer my time and do it for free.

Ron Stone

Another poster has raised this point, but it bears repeating, especially considering Garcetti's complicity: The biggest reason for abolishing the death penalty is that police and prosecutors simply get it wrong too often. It is much less often a "conspiracy" than it is simply incompetence and laziness from the "dedicated professionals" involved. As far as Garcetti's credibility in anything, it should be noted that it was on his watch that the term "testilying" entered the civilian vernacular.

Carol in Venice

Why do retirees so often make more sense than the incumbents?

SAM

Listen, whenever I see these guys in prison with tatooed faces and attitudes that say: "I'll NEVER be a non-violent part of your society," I want to put a gun to their heads and pull the trigger myself. They should NEVER be let out of prison. They're sub-human trash and need to be dumped in a landfill somewhere.

What I cannot countenance, however, is putting an innocent person to death. DNA evidence has cleared nearly 200 men who were on death rows around the country, and no decent society can trust a legal system so flawed that it can put innocent people to death by mistake.

And the cost! OY! I have to chip in an extra $1.5 million in District Attorney costs with my taxes to kill some guy? He ain't worth it. Send him to hell (San Quentin) for the rest of his life.

The fact that there are 680 (!!) men on Death Row right now shows what a farce the death penalty is. Garcetti is right on this point; take it from a man who has put people on The Row. END CAPITAL PUNISHMENT!

Ken Murray

"I vote for justice to the victims. One appeal. One writ. All done within 5 years. No more challenges to the method either. We adopted injection to appease the people upset at hangings, and electrocution, and now they are litigating the formula, the dose..it never stops."

So it means that the more than 100 people who have been factually PROVEN to be innocent, after prolonged incarceration, would have been killed, instead.

A system that essentially guarantees the killing of innocent people amounts to a conspiracy to murder, in any moral evaluation of such a proposal. To do that to our citizenry is just goulish.

Ken Murray

Mr. Garcetti, it is a pleasure to see pragmatic realism from a public servant, as opposed to dogmatic adherance to a demonstrably failed strategy. We need to see so much more of this, on so many subjects. You're willingness to take the lead on this is brave, considering the emotionalism bordering on religious furvor involved.

Josh

Even though I am in favor of having a Death Penalty, CA has messed-up the process so bad (in writs, reviews, costs, time, etc.) that I actually support Gil Garcetti's position on this. Why? The ultimate goal as I see it is to rid our streets of these predators on society. Remember not every murderer gets the Death Penalty. They are usually those convicted of: mutliple, repeat, or some special circumstance murders.

I would much prefer we punish these types harshly the first time (like long prison sentences without parole), instead of just short sentences only to release them to the streets to re-offend. California's system is broken - from the courts to the prisons. We (the people) are not getting what we deserve from either of those institutions. They should both be about protecting the public, not the convicted!

I tend to think a 30 year-old who murders and spends 30 years in prision is less-likely to re-offend if/when he/she gets out, than when they are sentenced to 25 years, released early on parole, only to go back onto our streets and re-offend.

Bottom-line: you take a life unlawfully, you get locked-up and they throw away the key. Period. Quit wasting time, money, and resources on CA's Death Penalty process. Or, adopt processes used in other states thet get with the program and get the job done without the drag on the families, friends, and taxpayers.

Miss P

With all of the cases that have been overturned because of DNA analysis, we should be very careful when handing down the death penalty. Something else we need to realize is that the person who has been charged with a crime has family also. Although we are sympathetic to the victim and their families, we should also take into consideration ALL of the people affected by the crime. What about cases where there is no DNA, but people have been wrongfully convicted because of ineffective representation and improper conduct on the part of police and prosecutors. Let us not be so ready to kill people because we "believe" they are guilty. We just might be wrong. I can say this because my own family has been on both sides of the fence. Again, we should not be so ready to take a life for a life because we just might be wrong.

guy fish

On Gil Garcetti and Judge Donald A. McCartin's view that we should get rid of the Death Penalty in order to help the state budget, I say let's compromise. There are over seven hundred death row inmates in California. We will never be able to kill them all anyway. Let's take three hundred fifty and give them life without parole. The state still saves a lot of cash, and us pro death penalty voters can still have our justice.
A list is available on-line which describes what all these murderers did. Some, like Scott Peterson, for example, will most likly never kill again and it seemed like a crime of passion; give him LWP. Other's, like all serial killers, child killers, and sex murderers, let's kill them so the world can be a better place.
I realize it is more complicated than that. But Mr. Garcetti, the people of California have already spoken many times on this matter, we want the Death Penalty. We don’t care if it is not a deterrent, we don’t care that it can’t bring back the victim, we don’t care if it cost more than Life in Prison.
Most of California’s pro death penalty voters I think would agree that as long as we can get the executions going again, we are willing to compromise.

WASP

It's a very different world than the frontier where they just hung people after a speedy trial for far less than what the people on death row of today are there for.

Rita-of-Sunland

I guess Gil Garcetti wants O.J. to live forever!!!

glenn grab

you couldn't even convict OJ, why should we listen to you?

Michael J.

I totally agree 100% that the death penalty is a broken system. So instead of complaining about it, why don't we learn to streamline the system. Are the lawyers afraid that they will not get cases that will bill them 25 years? Are the politicians scared that the crime rate will drop and they will no longer be able to use scare tactics to get votes? You go to trial, you lose, you get sentenced, you get ONE appeal....done.


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