NEW VOICES: Creators of California's Death Penalty Law Now Call for Life Without Parole

Donald Heller (pictured), who wrote California’s death penalty law, and Ron Briggs, who led the campaign to reinstate the law in 1978, are now advocating for replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole. Both now say that the law did not have the result they intended. “At the time, we were of the impression that it would do swift justice, that it would get the criminals and murderers through the system quickly and apply them the death penalty,” Briggs said. But the costs of the death penalty system has led him to reconsider his stance: “I tell my Republican friends, ‘Close your eyes for a moment. If there was a state program that was costing $185 million a year and only gave the money to lawyers and criminals, what would you do with it?’” Donald Heller, a former prosecutor, called California’s death penalty system a “colossal failure,” also mentioning its high costs, “The cost of our system of capital punishment is so enormous that any benefit that could be obtained from it — and now I think there’s very little or zero benefit — is so dollar-wasteful that it serves no effective purpose.” Both men are supporting a November ballot initiative that would replace death sentences with life without parole and use the money saved to solve cold cases. California has not carried out an execution in six years, and has about 720 inmates on death row.

(A. Nagourney, “Seeking an End to an Execution Law They Once Championed,” New York Times, April 6, 2012.) See Costs and New Voices.