As a prosecutor, I tried dozens of murder cases, but all it took was one death penalty trial to convince me that the death penalty is wasteful, ineffective, and broken beyond repair.
I support Proposition 34 to replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole. I know that a “Yes on 34” means justice that works — for everyone in California.
As deputy district attorney for Alameda County, I was given a career-making case calling for execution of a young man involved in a bloody crime spree in Oakland. I proudly accepted the chance to send him to death row, but as the trial went on, his abusive and violent childhood was exposed.
I learned that the crimes he committed mirrored ones he had experienced as a child. What once seemed like a simple case became more complicated, and I saw that his violence was part of a larger picture of the violence he had grown up with and witnessed.
I carried out my job and argued that he be given a death sentence, but I was no longer certain what would be accomplished by it. Eventually, the jury recommended life in prison without parole.
Although I lost, I felt justice was done because he was no longer a threat to society. He would spend the rest of his life behind bars – just like every person in California sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole since 1977.
Keeping him off death row, where he would get special housing and an expensive legal team, also saved taxpayers $1 million.
After that case, I stopped seeking the death penalty. I now understand that the death penalty is an ineffective and wasteful response to the complex problem of violent crime.
I know that the death penalty isn’t preventing crime because I was saw plenty of other people go through the cycle of violence: experiencing painful tragedies in their lives and subsequently not caring about the consequences of their actions.
We waste huge amounts of money on death row, rather than intervening before people get caught up in violence. Our limited resources would be better spent on programs that focus on stopping violence before it starts, such as preventing child abuse and drug addiction.
We also should invest in solving crimes to keep our families safe. The solve rate for violent crimes in California is shockingly low. Every year, 46 percent of murders and 56 percent of reported rapes go unsolved.
Murder cases with African American and Latino victims are even less likely to be solved, and yet we spent $130 million a year to prop up this expensive failure when we have a useful alternative with life in prison without parole.
As it stands, we are on track to spend $1 billion over the next five years on the death penalty even though only 13 people have been executed in California out of 900 death sentences since this 1978.
I can tell you that is never going to change, and certainly not without pouring even more money into broken system when our state is nearly broke.
We should be spending this money on schools, programs for youth, crime labs, and technology to help us find and prosecute the criminals that are still at large.
Finally, there’s the problem of innocence. Innocent people have been put on death row, and innocent people have been executed.
Prop. 34 will help us put our resources behind breaking the terrible cycles of violence that trap so many young people. It is the right answer to a difficult question.
Darryl Stallworth is a former Alameda County Deputy District Attorney.