Failure is not an option: Support for death penalty reform is critical

By Michele Hanisee

If we don’t fix California’s death penalty system this year, we will lose it. The death penalty will no longer be a sentencing option for child murderers, cop killers and others who commit the most monstrous crimes imaginable.

That’s why the ADDA has joined a growing list of elected DAs, law enforcement groups, district attorney and firefighter associations and private donors in backing a bipartisan effort to qualify a ballot initiative that would correct the myriad flaws in the current system.

The current system is, simply put, broken. Inmate housing is enormously expensive, capital defendants wait five years or more to get an appellate attorney appointed, and it takes an average of 12 years for a death penalty appeal to be heard and resolved by the California Supreme Court.

In 2008, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice described the system as “dysfunctional,” noting that the time from sentencing to execution averages more than two decades, costing taxpayers well over $100 million annually. State voters have made it clear that they support the death penalty in principle – and that they support reforming our existing system.

But, despite all this, the state Legislature has refused to act. As a result, the only way to carry out the will of the people, and correct grave injustices, is through the initiative process.

The reform initiative would:

  • Expand the pool of available defense attorneys.
  • Require that a defendant who is sentenced to death be appointed a lawyer at the time of sentence, meaning the defendant’s claims will be heard sooner.
  • Allow the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to double-cell death row inmates and house them at prisons other than San Quentin.
  • Require condemned inmates to work and pay restitution to victims.
  • Enable CDCR to enact an execution protocol without having to reply to every question or suggestion from any person in the world who sends them a letter.
  • Give the California Supreme Court oversight over the state agency that manages death penalty appeals.

Eliminating single-cell housing would save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. And these reforms would create a fairer system for defendants and victims alike

The stakes are enormous. Death penalty opponents are supporting a competing initiative to eliminate this form of punishment. If our reform initiative fails, we will hand them a victory – and, by extension, we will hand a victory to California’s most brutal criminals. The 750 inmates on California’s death row have slaughtered more than 1,000 people, including 226 children and 43 law enforcement officers. They raped and/or tortured 294 of their victims.

A donation of $25, $50 or $100 will go a long way to help qualify this crucial reform measure for the November ballot. You can donate here.

If you are able to volunteer your time to gather signatures for this initiative, please contact me as soon as possible You can read in detail about this measure, and learn how to help, at

Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys. The Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA) is the collective bargaining agent and represents nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. To contact a Board member, click here.

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