Know the Facts: California Death Penalty Fact Sheet

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ACLU of Northern CA

The death penalty makes our communities less safe, not more

We all want to live in safe communities, where we have an equal opportunity to succeed. To effectively build safe and healthy communities, we need to solve more violent crimes—especially murders—and we need to prevent more violence by investing in our children. But we don’t have the resources needed for these vital programs because the death penalty is draining millions of dollars every year from our local and state budgets.

Death penalty trials cost at least $1.1 million more than regular murder trials, costing California counties about $22 million per year. It also costs significantly more to house people on death row and to fund their mandatory appeals than it would if they were all condemned to permanent imprisonment until death. Every death row inmate costs the state $175,000 more per year, totaling more than $117 million for the entire death row population. The total price tag for state and county expenses is at least $139 million a year. Meanwhile, Californians are forced to give up many other, more critical public safety programs because there is just not enough money to fund them.

There is a more effective way to punish the worst offenders

We can all agree that serious crime needs to be met with serious consequences. In California, we can condemn the worst criminals to permanent imprisonment until death, with no possibility of ever being released. We have had this alternative for as long as we have had the death penalty, and it has proven to be a more functional and cost effective system. Every guilty person sentenced to what we call “life without parole” has died or will die in prison. The sentence is harsh and severe, and in many ways more of a challenge to endure than life on death row. It also protects innocent people from being wrongfully executed for a crime they did not commit, while keeping the real criminals off the streets forever. 

Victims’ family members deserve better

We must ensure that every survivor of a murder victim is treated with respect and gets the justice he or she deserves. But the death penalty traps survivors in decades of mandatory appeals, forcing them to relive the trauma of the crime over and over. When we condemn people to permanent imprisonment instead, family members are quickly freed from the legal system and can move on with their healing. Family members who support alternatives to the death penalty are beginning to come forward in large numbers, giving their personal perspectives on a system that fails to afford them the dignity and justice that they and their loved ones so deserve.

California’s death penalty is unfair and unjust

Our criminal justice system should treat all people equally, regardless of how much money they make, where they live, or the color of their skin. The reality is that California’s death penalty is applied unfairly and for the wrong reasons. Poor people who cannot afford a good lawyer are much more likely to be sentenced to execution.  Someone whose victim is white is three times more likely to be sentenced to execution than someone whose victims is African-American, and four times more likely than someone whose victim is Latino. Where a crime occurs also arbitrarily determines whether or not the perpetrator will be sentenced to death: Someone convicted of murder in Alameda County is nearly eight times more likely to be sentenced to death than someone convicted of the same crime in neighboring Santa Clara County. If the government cannot be trusted to deliver justice fairly and equally, they cannot be entrusted with the ultimate decision of who lives and who dies.  

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