It's Time for California to End Its Death Penalty

There is no shame in ending a bad policy. In fact, you could argue that there would be shame only in ignoring these statistics in the name of "justice." But what is justice anyway? Is it depriving a child of a better, safer elementary school in order to pay for the additional costs of a capital trial? Is it precluding an elderly person from a needed social service because the money is being spent on death row guards? It is keeping the price of California's in-state public universities outrageously high? The ancient concept of "an eye for an eye" is attractive in the abstract. In reality, in a nation bound by constitutional rights, its costs are profound.

The murderers whose lives would be spared by Prop 34's victory are "winning" nothing but the chance to live in a cell the rest of their lives. California will not be a more dangerous place if this were to occur. It will instead be a place that has decided to spend its money on things other than capital litigation.

My laid-back Californian friends are always telling me to "let things go," to move on from the bad things in life and to focus instead upon shaping a better future. It's time now for California to just let the death penalty go, to allow the failed experiment to drift back into the mist of history, and to move on to a wiser, fairer, less expensive path.

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Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.

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