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Steve Knight: We need the death penalty

Posted: July 24, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 24, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Recently, legislation was introduced that proposes to abolish the use of the death penalty in California.

The proposed bill would prohibit any future offenders from being sentenced to death, and would mandate that all current offenders on death row be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

The measure, however, does not address the root cause of high prison housing costs. Rather, the proposed “solution” seeks to treat a wound by amputating the entire limb.

While proponents of the bill cite high imprisonment costs and the slow appeals process as reasons to abolish the death penalty, polls have shown that the overwhelmingly majority of Californians continue to support the use of the death penalty as a deterrent against violent crime.

As a former police officer, I have seen firsthand the heinous nature of crimes that are currently eligible to warrant the death penalty, and the devastation and anguish these crimes cause the families of victims.

A sampling of the inmates who have been executed confirms this.

One man, William Bonin, was executed after being found guilty of torturing, raping and killing 14 boys and young men.

Another individual who was executed, Darrell Keith Rich, was convicted of raping and killing four women. One of his victims was thrown 100 feet off a bridge while she was alive.

Many in the law enforcement community, including the California District Attorneys Association and the California Peace Officers Association, oppose this bill because of the detrimental effect it would have on the administration of justice and the unfairness to the families of the victims who have patiently waited for justice.

In addition, the cost of keeping a prisoner in prison for life is staggering. Justice for All, a criminal justice reform
organization, estimates that if reforms were implemented, life without parole cases cost between $1.2 million and $3.6 million more than death penalty terms. Cost cutting measures are a much better option than complete abolishment.

Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, only 13 individuals have been executed. Furthermore, of the 714 prisoners on death row, only seven individuals have exhausted all their legal appeals in California and are eligible to have dates set for their execution.

One of these individuals, Stevie Lamar Fields, was sentenced to die for a three-week crime spree in 1978 that included three rapes, one robbery, two kidnappings and the murder of a 26-year-old woman.

Death penalty cases often take decades to move through the vast court system. Past efforts at reforming the judicial procedure have been attempted at the federal level.

One proposal would have cut the appeals time for death row inmates in half. Similar efforts at the state level would help reduce costs, and could expedite the agonizingly long process that tortures the families of victims.

Crimes against children, police officers and other egregious offenses are deserving of the harshest penalty society can impose on an individual — the death penalty. Removing that option from judicial consideration would be a serious mistake.

What is needed in California is common-sense judicial reform, not the blanket abolishment of an institution many in the law enforcement community and the populace consider a valuable and integral part of our justice system.

The voters of the state of California, accustomed to having their will usurped by lawmakers, deserve to have their voice respected and upheld by the legislature.

I will continue to support the will of the people by opposing these kinds of misguided measures at every opportunity.

Assemblyman Steve Knight, R-Antelope Valley, represents the 36th Assembly District in the California Legislature, which includes the communities throughout the Antelope and Victor Valleys.


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